After promising to renovate two deteriorated South Pasadena houses, the state Department of Transportation now wants to demolish them.
"It's simply not cost-effective to repair these houses," said Kenneth Steele, director of Caltrans' Los Angeles and Ventura counties office. "We want to take the houses out and leave clear graded lots."
The houses are among 610 that Caltrans owns in El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena along where the agency proposes to build a 6.2-mile extension of the Long Beach Freeway. The extension has been delayed for decades by challenges from opponents.
The Times reported in April that more than a quarter of the Caltrans homes along the route are either uninhabitable or vacant despite legal provisions requiring the state to maintain and rent them. At that time, Caltrans officials pledged to begin repairing the two houses in May.
On May 4, Steele sent a letter to Assemblyman Bill Hoge (R-Pasadena), saying work on the houses had begun.
But a preliminary report by the Office of the State Architect, hired to renovate the homes on Berkshire Avenue, revealed extensive unforeseen damage too costly to consider repairing, Steele said. Problems included buckled floors, dry rot, collapsed ceilings and arson damage.
City officials and residents, who have written at least 14 letters demanding repair of the eyesores, say they feel deceived.
"Caltrans has repeatedly lied to the residents regarding the rehabilitation of the Berkshire Avenue properties," neighbor Patricia Pierce said. "This is taxpayer-funded blight."
City officials said Caltrans knew from a contractor's estimate last year that the houses needed a total of $125,000 in repairs.
"If it hadn't been for Caltrans' neglect, these houses wouldn't be in this state. They should live up to their promises," said Councilman Amedee O. Richards Jr.
Although the May 25 architect's report does not provide dollar estimates, Steele said it is very likely that the cost will be far higher than early estimates.
Hoge is seeking in the Assembly to amend Caltrans' budget to force it to bring all its properties up to code or turn them over to another organization to manage or own.
"The state shouldn't be allowed to slowly kill off a neighborhood," he said.