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710 Freeway Debate Revs Up at Hearing : Transportation: Opposing sides offer testimony at a meeting of the state transit commission. Panel members will decide the fate of a controversial highway extension.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The grand armies of the Long Beach Freeway fight gathered Monday on the urban plains of Pasadena to engage once again in a battle that has lasted close to half a century.

On one side, anti-freeway allies carried a papier-mache dinosaur and placards that said: “Stop the Jurassic Parkway.”

On the other, pro-freeway demonstrators, including out-of-work carpenters, plumbers and electricians, carried helium balloons proclaiming “Finish the Long Beach Freeway” and boomed in unison: “We want jobs. Build the freeway.”

By the hundreds, the partisans gathered at the Pasadena Convention Center throughout the day and evening to state their case at a hearing held by the California Transportation Commission.

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Based partly on the hearing testimony, the commission over the next few months will decide whether the Long Beach Freeway should be extended 6.2 miles through Los Angeles, Alhambra, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

Construction started in 1951, beginning in Long Beach and stopping in 1965 at the San Bernardino Freeway on the Alhambra-Los Angeles border. For decades, legal challenges and lobbying by freeway opponents, centered largely in the small San Gabriel Valley suburb of South Pasadena, have forestalled completion of the controversial road.

More than 150 people testified before the commission Monday. Another 145 submitted written statements. There was no shortage of opinions from either of the camps.

Among the pro-freeway forces, a representative from the Southern California Assn. of Governments, Newport Beach Councilman John Cox, testified that the road must be built to help alleviate traffic problems throughout the region.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority member and Duarte Councilman John Fasana testified that the “desirable impacts far outweigh the undesirable impacts.”

Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Rosemead) testified that, if necessary, she would do what her father, U.S. Rep. Matthew G. Martinez, did as a state legislator a decade ago: introduce legislation to push the project through.

Her appearance was symbolic of the generations involved in the fight. Two weeks ago, Superior Court Judge Earl Warren Jr.--whose father, as governor in 1949, signed the bill authorizing construction of the roadway--declared the 1982 Martinez legislation no longer valid.

The judge said that to build the freeway, state highway officials would have to get permission from South Pasadena, which has long withheld its approval.

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San Gabriel Councilwoman Mary Cammarano, taunting her South Pasadena neighbors who say their 3.5-square-mile city would be destroyed, testified that she would “like to know what city has ever died from having a freeway put through it.”

Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell testified that “it’s time to get on with the project.”

The anti-freeway fighters were just as vehement with their arguments.

“The freeway will create a lot of pollution while cutting down a lot of trees,” said Jeffrey Arnold, 11, whose South Pasadena parents and grandparents have fought the freeway for years.

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David Doheny, vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and UCLA professor Martin Wachs each said it would be an environmental crime to build the freeway.

South Pasadena Councilman Harry Knapp said: “There is no greater good being served that warrants the sacrifice being asked.”

With dueling consultants, dueling state legislators and dueling city mayors, the debate in this case of quarrelsome democracy had its decidedly 1990s elements on Monday. There was talk of commuter rail, light rail and computerized traffic signals, and of economic recession.

But the arguments were largely similar to the two other occasions in 1984 and in 1964 when the Transportation Commission had considered routes for one of the nation’s most debated freeway projects.

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Dozens of routes have been weighed and rejected. And now one called the Meridian Variation, which would cut through the center of South Pasadena’s leafy avenues and neighborhoods of historic houses, is under consideration. Close to 1,000 houses would be threatened by the project, including dozens of historic structures. State highway officials have said, however, they would do everything possible to move or relocate the historic homes.

The hearing was a crucial step in the process for the freeway project to gain state and federal approval. Last year, Gov. Pete Wilson directed his Administration to “take all necessary steps” to build the controversial roadway.

The Clinton Administration, which has touted the benefits of building roads and bridges but has cast itself as environmentally more sensitive than the Bush Administration, has yet to announce any final decision on the project.

Times community correspondent Richard Winton contributed to this story.

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