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Council weighs sound walls against Link Bikeway project in Measure M funding discussion

When the La Cañada Flintridge City Council asked residents how they’d spend $954,000 in transportation funding available from the Measure M sales tax, the resounding answer they got — build sound walls — should have come as no surprise.

After all, complaints from citizens living near the Foothill (210) Freeway about noise and debris generated by the thoroughfare are historic and intense.

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But after a long, nuanced discussion Tuesday about the city’s needs and possible options for spending La Cañada’s share of the first five years of Measure M funds, council members went in a different direction.

They agreed to earmark the money to help fund the Foothill Boulevard Link Bikeway and Pedestrian Greenbelt Project, a half-mile installment of bike lanes, walkways and green space from just west of Leata Lane to Hillard Avenue.

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That project secured a $1.36-million Metro grant in 2011 that stipulated the city contribute an additional 33% in matching funds. But since then, total costs for the project have soared to $3.87 million, leaving a shortfall that has stymied plans.

Ann Wilson, division manager of the city Administration Department, explained the city could lose the Metro grant if it wasn’t ready to start construction next summer.

“If we don’t proceed in early 2019, those funds will lapse,” Wilson said.

In a public hearing, residents insisted the city keep sound walls a priority and expressed frustration that the findings of a survey intended to gauge public opinion did not regard that as the public’s dominant wish.

“It’s one thing to take a bike ride — it’s another thing to live everyday with thunderous sound in your life,” said Dana Coyle, who lives near the Hampton Road freeway overpass. “We request that every penny of Measure M be spent on sound walls.”

Others spoke in favor of the Foothill Boulevard Link project, saying it would make streets safer for bicyclists and allow the city to keep a commitment it made to residents on La Cañada’s west side to focus improvements beyond the city’s Town Center.

“The city promised residents of the west side it would invest in the west-side infrastructure as it has in the rest of the downtown Foothill Boulevard,” said former City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso. “That project has been delayed and delayed. I would hate for us, as a city, to give that money back.”

Link Project supporters said $954,000 wouldn’t go as far to build sound walls — city officials estimate $40 million would be needed to complete walls in 20 identified locations. They also pointed out other bigger funding sources were available for that.

In May, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) helped secure $5 million to build city sound walls through the new SB-1 gas tax. But that funding required the city to find $7 million more in matching and pre-construction funds. Furthermore, an effort to repeal SB-1 on the November ballot, if successful, would mean a repeal of La Cañada’s sound wall money, too.

Seeking to identify matching funds, the council considered if it could request a 20-year advance on money due the city from Measure R (an earlier sales tax that sunsets in 2039), for a lump sum of $3.71 million. If approved, the city would still be $3.28 million short of $7 million.

On Tuesday, Portantino told the City Council that, with some help from L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Metro officials had agreed to appropriate an extra $3.28 million to help La Cañada meet the matching requirement.

“That’s good news, right?” he asked the council, who applauded the news.

After much discussion, council members agreed the most strategic application of Measure M’s $954,000 would be the Link Project, to avoid losing the $1.36 million grant. They stressed the choice did not reflect an anti-sound wall sentiment.

“Us taking any kind of action to recommend funding so we can move forward with the Link Project is no reflection on our commitment to sound walls,” said Councilman Mike Davitt, “It’s a commitment to move forward with other transportation programs.”

They voted to dedicate the funds on a contingency basis, and wait to see if the city’s effort to get the $3.712-million lump sum Measure R money — as well as Portantino’s latest Metro coup — will be approved.

If either motion is unsuccessful, the matter will be brought back at a future council meeting.

Eich named to Public Works, Traffic Commission

Council members voted Tuesday to appoint La Cañada resident Keith Eich to an open seat on the city’s Public Works and Traffic Commission, filling a vacancy left by former Commissioner Daniel Drugan.

Drugan announced this summer he was moving to accept a position in Ventura County and would no longer live in La Cañada (all commissioners are to reside within city limits). The term will expire May 31, 2019.

Public Works Director Pat DeChellis said a second seat more recently became vacant, when Commissioner Clyde Hemphill announced his retirement. The three candidates who applied for Drugan’s seat were invited to apply for the second opening, which also expires May 31, 2019.

La Cañada residents who are interested in applying to fill Hemphill’s seat must submit applications by Friday. For more, call (818) 790-8880.

Charter Spectrum service questioned

Also Tuesday, Councilman Greg Brown asked whether a future council meeting agenda might address the quality of service issues among residents who receive cable television, phone and Internet services through Charter Spectrum.

The company is currently the only cable provider in town, and residents have collected signatures for the purpose of filing a complaint with the city about issues with the service provider. Brown said he recently switched to Spectrum and has experienced the spotty service firsthand.

“I know our options are very limited, but even if it means formally going to the Public Utilities Commission, what can we do?” he said, requesting a staff inquiry into the matter. “We really need to investigate what we need to do to get their attention.”

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