Last week, Caltrans issued a voluminous environmental impact report (EIR) on the proposed 4.5-mile underground freeway connection between the 710 and 210 freeways.
It’s a big report. Local resident Jan Soo Hoo noted, “The page count for this document is almost too much to comprehend. There are 1,294 pages in the report and 966 pages of appendixes for a total of 2,260. Within these is the 42-page Executive Summary. The real meat of the study is contained in the sections called ‘Technical Studies’ and there are 24,635 pages of these for a grand total of 26,625 pages.”
I took a quick look at the technical studies. For example, page 95 of Appendix A to the subsection entitled, “Geologic Hazard Evaluation to Support Environmental Studies,” reveals that the proposed 710 Freeway tunnel crosses “potentially active” local faults.
Wow. U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones has repeatedly said that a major earthquake in this region is inevitable.
Somehow, the statement that the proposed tunnel will cross potentially active faults was left out of the 42-page Executive Summary.
The Executive Summary also omits this statement from page 107 of the Geologic Hazard Evaluation: “No Caltrans seismic design criteria for tunnels are currently available. For this preliminary design phase to support the environmental documentation, it was agreed that the Caltrans seismic design criteria for an Ordinary Nonstandard facility will be used as the basis for seismic design of the Freeway Tunnel Alternative.”
What the heck does “no criteria” mean? Doesn’t “no” mean “no?” If there are “no seismic design criteria” why did Caltrans apply the low “Ordinary Nonstandard facility” test to an underground freeway tunnel in a potentially active fault zone? Who “agreed” to that?
Naturally, I Googled the phrase “ordinary nonstandard facility.” Lo and behold, there is a 15-year-old Caltrans memo that says, “Bridges are categorized as either Important or Ordinary depending on the desired level of seismic performance.”
By applying a lower desired level of seismic performance, Caltrans has downplayed the seismic risk, lowered the cost of construction and skewed the EIR to favor the tunnel.
None of this appears in the 42-page Executive Study.
Due to the voluminous size of the EIR report, Caltrans has extended the review period. So far, there are only two public hearings scheduled — both are in April. One month is hardly enough time to read 26,625 pages, let alone track down elusive and ubiquitously Caltrans-esque definitions of seismic criteria.
In 2010, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council came out against the tunnel, citing health concerns to local school children under a USC study. In 2012, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) wrote a letter asking for consideration of other alternatives.
“I urge Metro to give full and serious consideration as to how funds for a tunnel project could be better spent,” Schiff wrote. “I suspect that for less than the actual cost of a tunnel, Metro would have the funds necessary to undertake all of the remaining options under consideration — combined. These options, transportation system management, bus rapid transit and light-rail would help move people in an environmentally friendly manner without disrupting our long-established neighborhoods.”
The real issue with the tunnel plan is the lack of vision. We don’t need more freeways. Caltrans needs to fix the freeways we already have. That, and create robust public transportation.
If Caltrans wanted to embrace the future, it could pitch a different vision to us.
Imagine a Metro and light-rail system that would connect the schools — PCC, USC, UCLA, the Claremont Colleges, Cal State L.A., and high schools like Loyola — and the airports, LAX and Burbank, along with hospitals, USC Norris, Huntington Hospital, Childrens and Kaiser, along with tourists spots like Downtown L.A., Koreatown, the Arts District, the beach and Culver City.
The freeways would be empty.
It would be awesome.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Follow her on Instagram @realanitabrenner, Facebook and on Twitter @anitabrenner.