Liu vows to push sale of Caltrans homes

Conditions in the 710 gap are slow and go, as Gov. Jerry Brown last week vetoed a bill that would have forced the California Department of Transportation to quickly sell some of the nearly 500 properties it owns in Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

In his veto message, Brown said he is working to find a solution in the so-called 710 gap, where transportation officials are studying a 4.5-mile tunnel that would connect the Long Beach (710) Freeway and the Foothill (210) Freeway even as local leaders and residents raise alarms about the proposal.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who wrote the measure, said she is likely to introduce another measure to push sale of the properties next year.

“I think there will need to be some legislation involved,” she said. “We're going to talk to our locals and see how far we can get.”

Liu's measure would have required Caltrans to begin selling homes it acquired decades ago in preparation for constructing an extension to the 710 freeway. An August audit by the state showed that Caltrans has been a poor steward of those properties, failing to collect market-rate rents or adequately oversee repairs to the homes. The audit called on Caltrans to transfer management of the properties to local cities, whose officials are cool to the idea, or to let a private firm to take over.

Caltrans officials, who lobbied the governor to veto the bill, said it is too early to sell the homes because a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority study of what to build in the 710 gap will not be complete until 2014. The agency is not sure what properties it eventually will need.

In his veto message, the governor agreed with Caltrans that the bill is premature.

“The environmental process requires evaluation of all reasonable options for closing the gap,” Brown wrote. “A law requiring Caltrans to sell the properties purchased for building a surface freeway — before the environmental process is completed — would taint the process.”

In his message Brown said Caltrans will offer a response to the audit in November, and said the governor's office is committed to finding “a solution to the longstanding controversies over closing the 710 freeway gap.”

In August MTA officials winnowed the list of alternatives for the 710 to just a 4.5-mile tunnel, light rail, bus lines and street improvements.

Idea that were tossed out included building a freeway extending the 710 to the Glendale (2) Freeway or one along Avenue 64 from the 710 to the Ventura (134) Freeway.

Caltrans spokeswoman Kelly Markham said the agency couldn't comment on options for managing the properties.

“Caltrans is committed to working with the author of the bill on the property management issues with regard to the 710 freeway gap project,” Markham said.

Liu said she was awaiting Caltrans' reaction to the audit, and that her office is helping facilitate meetings between Caltrans and its tenants.

“Hopefully [Caltrans] will have an adequate response to the audit and we'll move forward from there,” Liu said. “We're disappointed, but it isn't over until it's over.”

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