Councilman balances both hats

The prospect of a Long Beach (710) Freeway tunnel dumping many more trucks and other vehicles onto the Foothill (210) Freeway and into city streets is a daunting consideration for many residents of La Cañada and its surrounding area.

It also has caused headaches for the city of La Cañada Flintridge, which earlier this year filed a lawsuit against Metro challenging use of Measure R funding for a project that has not yet been studied to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

So, it's no surprise La Cañada Councilman Dave Spence is in a difficult position.

Spence, who not only represents residents on the council, also represents the region in several governmental bodies, including as president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, which is one of four councils (COGs) that are, according to Spence, a sub-function of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).

SCAG has promoted the need for the extension of the 710 Freeway as a way to fill the “last gap in the state's freeway system,” according to Caltrans representatives during recent community meetings about Caltrans' recent 710 Tunnel Geotechnical Study.

“It's a tricky position,” La Cañada Mayor Laura Olhasso said of Spence's governmental roles.

“I know as a leader of San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Dave wears a regional hat. The majority of the members of that body have voted in support of an extension of the 710 and that's the position that body has. But Dave, as a member of this council, has voiced strong opposition. That's the hard thing about wearing multiple hats,” she said, adding, “But I know that Dave, as a member of the council, does all he can to further the city's opposition to the tunnel.”

Spence, who is up for re-election to the COG this year, agrees it is a difficult position, but contends he is able to maintain his opposition to the tunnel and yet remain neutral in guiding the COG.

“My re-election doesn't have anything to do with the 710,” he said.

Spence maintains he is able to remain fairly neutral in guiding the COG.

“I'm probably the fairest person to lead a discussion,” Spence said.

Other members of the COG, who support the freeway extension, are supporting him for re-election to the council, he said; however, he added, he doesn't believe he will keep his seat as the COGs president for another year because of the city's lawsuit.

That's in part because of the pressure he believes will be brought on COG from the cities of Monterey Park, Alhambra and San Gabriel, which have all expressed their support of a tunnel to get vehicles off their city streets.

However, Spence said, their hope of alleviating traffic with a tunnel is ill-advised, since the tunnel is, according to previous reports, expected to operate at level F — a failed, standstill of congestion — and spill over into those cities' streets.

Spence also opposes the proposed tunnel because of the anticipated tens of billions of dollars — a number which Caltrans has said it won't discuss at this point in the planning — which he believes could better be spent on other regional transportation helps, such as the continuation of the Gold Line.

“If the money proposed for the tunnel were made available for the Gold Line it would get people off the freeway by 2013, that's a much better solution,” he said, adding, “It just doesn't make sense to spend that amount of money to get level F results.”


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