Doug Generoli and other business people in the mid-city area were tired of the blight and decay that had invaded their community. A few years ago, they thought they had found a way to save the area.
They voiced their concerns to Councilwoman Gloria McColl, who formed the Mid-City Revitalization Task Force, composed of business and community leaders, to find ways to conquer the blight and make businesses in the area more attractive.
With a budget of about $2 million from community block grants, task force members made plans to spruce up businesses, plant trees and repair sidewalks so people would again come to mid city to shop.
But now, task force members think their efforts will die before they have a chance to succeed.
The City Council on Tuesday will meet to decide whether to sign a freeway agreement with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) that will pave the way for construction of an eight-lane freeway through the 40th Street area of mid city.
The 2.2-mile section of Interstate 15 freeway will complete the only remaining unfinished portion of Interstate 15, which runs from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, Caltrans officials said.
Caltrans has also agreed to cover one block of the proposed freeway, at Polk and Orange avenues, to buffer the community from noise and pollution. This cover will provide space for a park, and Caltrans has agreed to provide other park land in the area near the proposed freeway.
Task force members are not happy at the prospect, however. They argue that one block of cover will not sufficiently protect the community from noise and exhaust, and they want Caltrans to cover the entire eight-block segment of freeway cutting through their area.
Caltrans officials said the proposed, one-block-covered freeway costs $25 million, and the department cannot afford the $100 million needed to cover the eight blocks. If the City Council does not sign a highway agreement by July 1, Caltrans officials say the $12 million it has agreed to spend for the one block of cover will be diverted to other highway projects.
Residents along 40th Street have been plagued by massive amounts of traffic for about 20 years, and many think the freeway project will solve their problems.
But others argue that the freeway will only cause more blight in the community, and think the City Council is being too hasty in signing the freeway agreement. Generoli, vice chairman of the task force, says the council doesn’t have sufficient information about the effects of the project on the community.
The City Council in April borrowed $100,000 from the Mid-City Commercial Revitalization Project to study the freeway’s effects the community and to find ways to resolve the problems.
The task force agreed to the loan but asked that the study also address the question of the freeway’s effects on commercial revitalization. Members complain that the study will have no effect on Tuesday’s decision, because it will not be completed until later this year.
Generoli said, “The bottom line is that the freeway agreement doesn’t protect mid-city business interests.”
The task force voted unanimously Wednesday to ask the City Council not to sign the agreement, unless it is committed to getting additional cover for the freeway.
“The issue is, we want sensitive treatment of mid city,” Generoli said. “We don’t need an eight-lane freeway rammed down our throats.”
Matt Greco, a member of the Normal Heights Community Assn., said his organization will also ask the City Council not to sign the freeway agreement, because the one block of cover offered by Caltrans “does hardly anything to mitigate the impact of this freeway.”
“We recognize that something needs to be done to provide better traffic flow in the 40th Street corridor,” Greco said.
However, he said, “We feel strongly that putting that freeway through a densely populated, established community tears apart the fabric of the community, and it does environmental and sociological damage. Our neighborhood is bisected by (Interstate) 805. Now it will be bisected by another freeway. It’s unfair to mid city.”
Caltrans district director William Dotson said his office cannot afford to cover any more of the freeway, but, “If someone other than the state could provide funding, we’re certainly willing to incorporate that into the design.”
Completing the section of Interstate 15 is a high priority for Caltrans, because the 40th Street area is plagued by major traffic problems, Dotson said.
Unless the City Council signs a freeway agreement, “we just wouldn’t build anything,” Dotson said. “It would just sit there as it has been for the last 10 years or so.”
The $12 million set aside to cover the one-block area “would immediately be placed in some other area,” he said. Once the project is again on line for funding, there is no guarantee that Caltrans would offer to cover any portion of the freeway, Dotson said.
Marla Marshall, an aid to Councilwoman McColl, said that signing the freeway agreement is only a measure to ensure that the city does not lose the $12 million for the one-block cover area.
Because construction will not begin for about three years, “there will be ample time to implement changes and adjustments in the design,” Marshall said.
Caltrans spokesman Jim Larson agrees. He said it will take about three years before Caltrans gets the money to build the freeway. If money is found to pay for covers on the remaining blocks, “Caltrans would design the additional covers in our plans.”
As politicians and civic groups continue their pro and con debates about the proposed freeway, Bob Atkins only asks for a good night’s sleep.
A machine shop foreman, Atkins has lived on 40th Street for 22 years. He has taken tranquilizers for the past five years to help him sleep, because the noise produced by the approximately 30,000 cars that travel daily on the street have racked his nerves.
His wife, Betty, has emphysema and can no longer work, and doctors say that automobile exhaust from the street is contributing to her health problem.
Cars travel along 40th Street “all hours of the day and night,” Atkins said. “It shakes your house and it’s just nerve shattering. Our houses are about 20 feet from the curb. You have to take your life in your hands to get in and out of your driveway.”
In 1983, Atkins formed the 40th Street Homeowners Assn. and pressed city officials to do something about the noise and traffic. McColl has helped focus attention on their problem, Atkins said, but, “It’s just a continuous battle.”
Atkins plans to write more letters to local and state politicians. He also plans to tell President Reagan about his plight.
“If nothing is done after that, I’m considering a class-action suit against the city,” he said.
For the past 20 years, 40th Street residents have heard about the proposed freeway. Now that the project seems to be going forward, Atkins thinks it will help solve their problems.
Even if the opposing forces settled their differences today, Caltrans officials said, no construction on the proposed freeway would begin before 1988, and it wouldn’t be completed before 1990.
“In the meantime, we’ve still got this traffic here for another five to seven years,” Atkins said. “Not like it is now, but worse.”