VIDEO | 03:24
LA Times Today: Patt Says - Freeway racism

LA Times Today: Patt Says - Freeway racism

Watch L.A. Times Today at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News 1 on Channel 1 or live stream on the Spectrum News App. Palos Verdes Peninsula and Orange County viewers can watch on Cox Systems on channel 99.

One of the unexpected effects of the Northridge earthquake of 1994 is that when the quake broke the Santa Monica freeway, it forced Angelenos to drive where they hadn’t driven for decades – the streets.

They were voyages of discovery into fascinating neighborhoods that had been there for years.

Neighborhoods that had been split in half -- not by an earthquake in the 1990s but by a freeway in the 1950s and ‘60s.

The tales of freeways built and unbuilt are stories of how neighborhoods of color and poor neighborhoods became highways’ literal paths of least resistance – the shortest and cheapest distance between two points, unless you count beyond the dollars to the cost to communities.

Like the Santa Monica Freeway, conceived in the great interstate highway planning era of the 1950s, plowing right through some once thriving minority neighborhoods.

Like the Pico neighborhood in Santa Monica, and Sugar Hill in West Adams, which if it wasn’t already regarded as “South L.A.,” it sure was after the freeway went through it.

Paradoxically, part of the Santa Monica Freeway is named for Christopher Columbus – and part of it is named for Rosa Parks. Talk about your mixed messages.

And there’s the poor Eastside of L.A., chopped up like a Cobb salad by an absolute pollution machine: a confluence quartet of 5, the 10, the 101, and the 60 freeways.

A couple of decades later it was the Century Freeway, from Norwalk to the edge of LAX.

Each time, locals tried to stand up to the graders and bulldozers … but they didn’t have the juice.

Yet it can be done, with money and clout. Beverly Hills and its neighbors managed to stop a Beverly Hills freeway from crossing the city from the Harbor Freeway to the San Diego Freeway.

We stopped building freeways partly because they’d be taking up increasingly expensive land … and partly because people figured out how to fight them.

You see the battle scars in stubs, like the 710 freeway, which El Sereno and South Pasadena fought for decades, and finally defeated.

And there’s the Marina Freeway, the 90, originally meant to run all the way to Orange County. Instead, it’s more like an extra-long offramp from the 405.

It was originally named the Richard M. Nixon freeway. Watergate scotched that one.

For nearly 15 years, I’ve made it one of my life’s tasks to change its name again.

It should not be named for the manmade development that is Marina del Rey.

Name it in honor of what was there before – the Ballona wetlands, a wildlife refuge and part of the vast wetlands that once enriched the California coast. We’ve destroyed 99 percent of it, and the Ballona Wetlands is a scrap of what survives.

Change it -- to the Ballona Freeway. It’s not hard, it’s not expensive, and legislators? Do it, and I’ll show up and tweet a picture of all of you cutting the ribbon.