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Wants to Take Opposition to State Hearing : Cleator Assails Freeway Project Through Southeast

Times Staff Writer

Flanked by campaign supporters carrying anti-California 252 signs, San Diego City Councilman Bill Cleator announced Monday his opposition to the controversial state freeway project that would bisect Southeast San Diego.

At a noon press conference held at 40th and Beta streets, near where the proposed highway would go, Cleator said he wants the council to designate him and fellow Councilman William Jones, whose district includes Southeast, as official representatives to Thursday’s state Transportation Commission hearing in Ontario on the issue. Community leaders last week raised objections to the location of the hearing, which is more than 100 miles from San Diego, saying it would be difficult for residents to attend and make their feelings known.

“It’s time for the state Transportation Department to understand the needs of the people,” Cleator said. " . . . Our city can utilize this property to bring needed jobs to the residents of Southeast San Diego. . . . I’m here to say ‘Let’s get on with it.’ I support the citizens of Southeast San Diego in saying ‘No to 252.’ ”

The land for the proposed freeway is owned by the state, but because it lies in Southeast San Diego the city must agree to the freeway’s construction. The city, which a year ago voted against the project, wants to use the land for redevelopment of the area, which is plagued by high crime and high unemployment.

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Cleator cited the area’s crime and unemployment problems, the need for community development and the presence of four freeways already dividing Southeast as reasons why the project should be stopped.

“They (Southeast residents) need another problem like they need a hole in the head,” Cleator said.

Cleator offered no alternatives to State 252, which freeway supporters say is the only way to relieve traffic congestion in National City and on Interstate 805. Still, “I don’t think you solve the problem by stitching a freeway through this neighborhood. . . . If there’s anything this city needs, it doesn’t need more pollution and more noise,” he said.

Cleator, a candidate for mayor, is the second politician seeking elected office this year to publicly announce opposition to the construction of State 252. The Rev. Robert Ard, a candidate for the state Assembly, held a press conference at the same location almost two weeks ago. Both candidates denied political motivation as a reason for their opposition to the highway.

Don Harrison, a spokesman for Cleator, specifically denied that the councilman is using the freeway issue to attract more black votes.

“Does Councilman Cleator want more black votes? Yes. Is Councilman Cleator opposed to Highway 252? Yes. Is there a cause and effect? No,” Harrison said.

LaDonna Hatch, a spokeswoman for former Councilwoman Maureen O’Connor, Cleator’s opponent in the mayoral runoff, said that O’Connor has opposed the highway since the early ‘70s.

The freeway issue was dormant for more than a year until several weeks ago, when Ard and other Southeast community activists made it known that the commission hearing to decide whether to sell the freeway corridor to the city would be held in Ontario.

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The struggle over State 252, which has continued for nearly a decade, has traditionally been a tug-of-war between National City’s increasing traffic congestion and pro-freeway attitude against the redevelopment efforts of San Diego officials and Southeast community activists who believe that new businesses and jobs, not freeways, are what the neighborhood needs.

Verna Quinn, a longtime Southeast resident and community activist who has been involved with the issue for nearly two decades, stressed that the entire Southeast neighborhood is “absolutely united” in its opposition to the freeway.

“We just think 252 is totally unacceptable in this community. . . . I think it’s an imposition on this community that never should have happened in the first place,” she said.


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