Torres Vows to Continue Fight : Roadblock to Pasadena Freeway Route Takes a Hit

Times Staff Writer

A bid to block the routing of the Long Beach Freeway's final leg through South Pasadena was dealt a setback last week, but Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) immediately vowed to revive his fight before the legislative session ends in September.

"I'm going to continue to raise the issue as best as I can," Torres said after the Senate on Friday removed his amendment--aimed at scuttling the controversial freeway link--from compromise transportation legislation. "The issue will never be dead," said Torres, whose district includes South Pasadena.

The state Department of Transportation is finishing an environmental impact study on a freeway route that would roughly follow Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena and destroy some historic houses in the northern part of the city.

Amendment to Bill

Caltrans officials say they expect federal approval in August for the 6.2-mile-long route, known as the Meridian Variation. Caltrans estimates the cost of completion at $425 million, but local opponents of the freeway maintain that the price tag eventually could climb to $1 billion.

Late last week, for almost 24 hours, the freeway dispute jeopardized the delicately crafted transportation bill, which includes a 9-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax.

The latest twist in the freeway controversy, which has spanned nearly three decades, began in May, when Torres amended a gasoline-tax bill by Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco). The amendment prohibited the state from spending its funds on any state highway in Los Angeles County built through a historically significant site or through parks or recreation areas.

However, after the Kopp bill incorporating Torres' proposal was sent to the Assembly, it was overhauled and melded into transportation legislation by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar). In negotiations between state officials and legislators over the transportation package, the Torres amendment was removed from the legislation.

But, Torres said, he did not discover that the language had been dropped until a Democratic colleague told him last week. So, last Thursday night he revived his amendment by persuading the Senate Appropriations Committee to insert it into the Katz transportation compromise.

An angry Katz said the Torres proposal violated the spirit of the negotiations over the transportation legislation. "Art is trying to carve out a special niche for himself," Katz said.

During the Senate floor debate Friday on the amendment, Kopp termed the proposal a "deal breaker" and questioned whether Deukmejian would sign the transportation compromise if the Torres amendment remained in the bill.

Meantime, other opponents predicted that the amendment could affect as many as 16 other freeway projects in the county. After several hours of intense lobbying, Kopp succeeded in removing the amendment on a 24-13 vote.

Afterward, Torres maintained that "Deukmejian put incredible pressure on the members, saying he will not sign the bill unless the language is deleted."

A Deukmejian Administration official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that the Torres amendment would have been "a deal breaker" and maintained that it had no support in the Legislature.

'Awareness of Issue'

Ralph Ochoa, lobbyist for South Pasadena, acknowledged that chances of winning legislative approval for the Torres proposal before the session ends in September are slim. But, he said, "we have been able to buy some time for the city of South Pasadena."

On Monday, South Pasadena Councilwoman Evelyn Fierro said she was not surprised at the outcome of Torres' efforts. But Fierro, who lobbied on behalf of the Torres amendment last week in Sacramento, added that she was pleased "it got as far as it got. It brought an awareness of the issue to the Legislature."

Sen. Newton Russell (R-Pasadena), who opposed the Torres amendment, cautioned Monday that Torres could still insert his proposal into another bill. Russell said he would continue to raise objections, citing opposition from his Pasadena constituents.

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