To build or not to build the extension of the Long Beach Freeway?
That will be the question as hundreds of freeway opponents and advocates gather in Pasadena on Monday before the California Transportation Commission.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the commission will hold a formal hearing on whether the freeway should be extended from the Los Angeles-Alhambra border north through South Pasadena and into Pasadena.
Supporters and opponents of the project are marshaling their forces and plan to testify throughout the day and night at the milestone hearing, which will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center on Green Street. A final decision on the freeway is expected this fall, and the hearing is one of the last opportunities for citizens to state their views.
To promote their anti-freeway cause, South Pasadena officials--fresh from lobbying efforts in Washington and winning a recent court case in the controversy--are bringing a transportation consultant from Florida to testify that improving traffic flow on city streets and expanding public transportation would render the freeway unnecessary.
South Pasadena officials and other freeway opponents say they will reiterate their view that the freeway would wreak havoc in the name of facilitating the smooth flow of traffic through the Los Angeles Basin.
Building an eight-lane roadway through mainly residential neighborhoods for 6.2 miles would tear the city in half, they say, causing environmental damage and destroying historic neighborhoods.
The hearing, said South Pasadena City Manager Kenneth C. Farfsing, is a waste of taxpayer money, just as he says the roadway would be.
The two sides can't even agree on how much an extension would cost. Freeway opponents say it would cost $1 billion, while state highway planners put the price tag at $651 million.
Freeway supporters hope to use the hearing as a forum to stress what they consider the crucial regional implications of the project.
"This is not just an Alhambra versus South Pasadena issue. We're fighting for the regional benefit of this freeway," said Alhambra City Manager Julio J. Fuentes, whose city is among the leaders in the battle for the roadway. "We want to get the traffic off our streets and onto the freeway."
Freeway advocates plan to tout economic studies that show the extension would create as many as 29,000 jobs--perhaps half of them permanent.
"Freeways are powerful engines of economic growth and job creation," said Joseph E. Haring, former head of Occidental College's economics department, who plans to testify before the commission.
Both sides are planning to stage simultaneous rallies and news conferences to boost their causes.
In support of the freeway, a small army of unemployed construction workers, representing seven different building and trades unions, is scheduled to demonstrate.
At 1 p.m. today in El Sereno, freeway opponents will be detailing aspects of a newly minted study on the "low-build" alternative to the freeway proposal, an idea that has gained political currency during the past few years in South Pasadena.
"We're putting this forward as an olive branch of how the problem can be solved," said South Pasadena's Farfsing, whose city is spending $30,000 on the study.
The report favors reliance on public transportation and improvements to existing local streets as a solution to the traffic problems of the western San Gabriel Valley and adjacent eastern Los Angeles.
"This approach builds on the investment we are making in rail, bus and electric trolley transit facilities rather than detracts from it as a freeway will likely do," the report by an Orlando, Fla., engineering firm says.
Fuentes said he was not impressed by his preliminary review of the report. "They haven't really offered anything new," he said.
Although the freeway combatants seek a different outcome, each side hopes the hearing will be the beginning of the end of the decades-long debate.
This is the third time the commission has held such a hearing. In 1964 and 1984, thousands of citizens showed up to testify for or against the freeway. But each time lawsuits, lobbying and negotiations over the route thwarted a resolution.
During the past 20 years, at least seven different environmental studies have been prepared. But now state highway planners say all environmental and preservation issues have been addressed, and the list of routes has been winnowed to one.
The state transportation commission will decide if that route, the Meridian Variation, is the best. It roughly parallels Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena.
If the commission adopts the route, the next step would be for state and federal officials to decide whether to issue formal, final approval on the environmental studies.
At that point, any legal challenges to the environmental studies must be made within 30 days. If the freeway wins final approval, there are sure to be challenges.
"We will resist by all legal means," said South Pasadena's freeway attorney, Antonio Rossmann, who won a court ruling Sept. 16 that said state highway officials must get the city's permission before extending the road through the tiny suburb.
State highway officials are still awaiting a final decision on the project from the Clinton Administration, which has advocated rebuilding the nation's roads and bridges but is also casting itself as more sensitive to environmental issues than the Bush Administration.
Then comes the matter of paying for the roadway. This will require approval by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Southern California Assn. of Governments and the state transportation commission.
Decades of Freeway Furor
1933: State highway envisioned to run from Long Beach to Monterey Park.
1949: Gov. Earl Warren signs legislation extending route into South Pasadena.
1951: Construction begins at Long Beach end.
1959: California Legislature extends proposed Long Beach Freeway path to join the proposed Foothill Freeway in Pasadena.
1960: State officials begin studies of potential routes.
1964: Thousands of people attend public hearings. Seven different routes discussed. The California Highway Commission adopts the Meridian Route, named because it parallels South Pasadena's Meridian Avenue.
1965: Long Beach Freeway opens in San Gabriel Valley from San Bernardino Freeway in Monterey Park to Valley Boulevard in Alhambra.
1972: By 2-to-1 margin, South Pasadena voters--with close to 80% of registered electorate casting ballots--prohibit City Council from closing off any streets that would permit construction of freeway on Meridian Route.
1973: City of South Pasadena and number of individuals and organizations, including Sierra Club, file suit in federal court. Judge issues injunction, then approves agreement that allows for some construction in Pasadena and also calls for Caltrans to prepare environmental reviews. South Pasadena amends its General Plan to show public buildings and facilities in freeway path. State sues over this. Judge rules South Pasadena must show freeway route on city's official map.
1975: Draft environmental study released.
1976: Supplement to draft environmental study released and hearing held.
1977: State releases final environmental impact statement and recommends scaled-down version of project: four-lane freeway connecting Pasadena Freeway and Foothill Freeway. Federal highway officials balk. State drops all work on project.
1982: Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation aimed at ending controversy. Law authorizes Caltrans to build freeway without consent of municipal governments, such as South Pasadena. But it requires more environmental studies and for the California Transportation Commission to select a route by 1985.
1983: Public workshops held after release of a supplement to the second draft environmental impact statement. Federal council on preservation suggests alternate routes to avoid destruction of historical properties.
1984: Final environmental impact statement again recommends Meridian Route. After a hearing, California Transportation Commission accepts it. Transportation planners reject federal historic preservation group's suggestions, including double-decking of Pasadena Freeway.
1986: Two out of three voters in South Pasadena election urge City Council to
continue opposing Meridian Route.
1987: Caltrans holds hearing on a third draft environmental impact statement. Document outlines a new version of Meridian Route, the Meridian Variation, developed in response to historic sites issue.
1989: The National Trust for Historic Preservation announces that South Pasadena, owing to the freeway threat, is on a list of America's 11 "endangered places."
1992: Caltrans announces completion of final environmental impact statement. Gov. Pete Wilson's Administration directs state transportation officials to build freeway. Federal highway officials give formal approval of the environmental study.
1993: Advisory panel, formed at behest of federal highway officials and made up of freeway supporters and opponents, recommends banning trucks, narrowing roadway and creating six tunnels to minimize impact on historic structures. This would save close to 400 houses compared to an earlier proposal. Caltrans agrees with most major points. Judge says 1982 legislation has expired and that state highway officials must obtain permission from South Pasadena if the roadway is to be built through the town.
Freeway Hearing Schedule
The California Transportation Commission will conduct a hearing Monday in Pasadena on whether to extend the Long Beach Freeway.
Here is an outline of the morning, afternoon and evening schedule at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 Green St.
10 a.m.: Presentation by the California Department of Transportation on the 6.2-mile extension from the San Bernardino Freeway at the Los Angeles-Alhambra border to the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena.
10:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.: Comment from public officials, including supporters and foes.
12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.: Lunch break.
1:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.: Public comments.
5:15 to 6:30 p.m.: Dinner break.
6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Caltrans presentation.
7 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Public comments.
Those who want to address the commission must fill out a green card at the door. Testimony is limited to 10 minutes for each speaker from a public agency, and limited to two minutes for individuals and interest groups.
Stenographers will be available to take private testimony throughout the day in a room adjacent to the meeting hall. Written testimony will be accepted until Oct. 15. It should be sent to Robert Remen, executive director, California Transportation Commission, 1120 N St., Room 2233, Sacramento, CA 95814.