Cities send elected reps, not planners, to 710 Freeway extension advisory committee

La Cañada Flintridge has become one of several cities to put elected officials on an advisory committee set up to study alternatives closing the so-called Long Beach (710) Freeway gap, flouting a request to send planning commissioners instead.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency had requested member cities appoint planning officials to the Stakeholder Outreach Advisory Committee to provide more depth of talent and expertise, but city councils have instead sent members of their own, who they say will better represent the political views of their constituencies on such a controversial project.

“Not that a planning commissioner isn't perfectly capable, but the council has been so involved in this issue that we were adamant that one of us would be there and could speak to our position,” said La Cañada City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, who attended the July 20 advisory committee meeting on her city’s behalf.

The city has long opposed a freeway or tunnel connecting the 710 Freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway, one of the alternatives being studied by the MTA and California Department of Transportation. Officials and residents in La Cañada, together with those in other cities like Glendale and South Pasadena, are concerned that an increase in truck traffic will generate too much noise, pollution and pressure on local streets and neighborhoods surrounding the 210 Freeway.

Olhasso said she was joined at the meeting by the mayor of Sierra Madre and a councilman from Temple City.

“At the meeting I attended there was no comment, so I assume [MTA has] come to accept it,” Olhasso said. “So I think we set a precedent, and others followed suit.”

Lynda Bybee, an MTA spokeswoman, said the request that cities send planning commissioners was simply an attempt at building the knowledge base in the outreach committee, and that having elected officials participate hasn't presented any problems.

“It wasn't anything too mysterious. We thought planning commissioners who are familiar with land-use issues would be particularly well-suited to the discussions,” she said. “We welcomed [elected officials] to the committee.... It's functioning just fine.”

Still, Olhasso said outreach efforts so far appear to be “one-way routes” by which MTA is using the advisory committee to inform the public, “not necessarily citizens to provide input and reaction, and that's what's frustrating.”

Officials in La Cañada and neighboring cities, including South Pasadena, have said they believe MTA and Caltrans have already settled on building a 4.5-mile tunnel connecting the two freeways. But opponents say a tunnel project would prove costly and damaging to the quality of life in the area.

Other cities, including Alhambra, hope to see the extension built, arguing that the long-planned connector is an important route for trucks from the Port of Los Angeles to inland transportation hubs.

Caltrans and MTA officials insist they are considering a range of alternatives, from the tunnel to improvements in mass transit and streets that would ease congestion in the area stretching from the San Gabriel Valley to East Los Angeles and Glendale.

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