South Pasadena Misses 710 Comment Deadline

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As Federal Highway Administration officials move toward deciding whether to extend the Long Beach Freeway, South Pasadena--which has fought the roadway for more than 30 years--has missed what was to have been the final deadline to comment on the project.

The agency set Friday as the deadline for cities affected by the project to comment. South Pasadena was the only municipality that failed to send in its remarks. Instead, South Pasadena asked the highway agency for more time.

"We were finding the one-week deadline incredibly hard to meet," said Katherine Perez, the city's transportation manager. "Unlike the other cities, we went to our residents for comments."

Federal highway officials set the deadline last week at a meeting in Washington at which they presented the proposal for the 6.2-mile route through Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena. They have vowed to make a decision within weeks, ending decades of uncertainty over the $1.4-billion project.

Perez said federal officials have given the city another week to comment, but the agency would not confirm that extension.

South Pasadena has declared that it will do everything within its means to fight the building of the road, including filing a lawsuit that would challenge the project's environmental report as being inadequate.

Meanwhile, officials in Pasadena and Alhambra reiterated their support. Writing on behalf of City Councilwoman Ann-Marie Villicana and himself, Pasadena Mayor Chris Holden told the agency that his city "encourages the Federal Highway Administration and Secretary Rodney Slater to move ahead" to approve the freeway.

Holden emphasized, however, the project must take steps to ease congestion and neighborhood blight in Pasadena during construction.

Alhambra Mayor Barbara A. Messina wrote that "all residents" of the city are "extremely pleased" that the agency is ready to decide the project's fate. Among Messina's suggestions are a request that the local advisory groups to be created be allowed only to remark on freeway design directly relating to their specific communities.

Lawyers for El Sereno residents called for a delay in the decision on whether to build the extension. Residents of the largely Latino area have sued the California Department of Transportation, demanding anti-pollution and historic preservation safeguards equal to those planned for predominantly white areas of Pasadena and South Pasadena.

Attorney Dennis Perluss, who represents the residents, acknowledged that Caltrans has offered to build the freeway so that it is below street level in El Sereno. But he called that plan a "rough sketch," adding that residents may have other demands.

As expected, Caltrans wrote that it was committed to the extension--a project that would link the San Bernardino and Foothill freeways.

Caltrans Director James W. van Loben Sels noted that federal highway officials in their draft proposal stated that Caltrans planners had adequately addressed environmental and other problems the project may pose.

Van Loben Sels also agreed with the federal highway proposal that key roadways near the freeway, including Fair Oaks and Raymond avenues, Arroyo Parkway and Valley Boulevard, be improved to allow more faster-moving traffic until the freeway is built.

Caltrans officials hope to begin construction of the freeway extension in 2005 and complete it nine years later.

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Times staff writer Peter Y. Hong contributed to this story.

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