Piece of Mind: Sound wall the alarms

A local real estate agent once said to me with only a hint of humor in his voice that he was confident he could sell a particular home in the tony Meadow Grove area of our city if he could find the right buyer, specifically one who was deaf, or at least partially so. It seems the beautiful property was beleaguered by the same scourge that has come to wear many of us down: the noise of truck traffic on the 210.

Pardon my impatience, but we've been waiting for sound walls to abate the freeway's noise since the early 1970s, when the Foothill Freeway opened to traffic. Counting away those decades on my fingers tells me that's nearly 40 years. Those fingers will be significantly more shriveled — and may actually be dust — by the time we get a section built, but nonetheless I am happy that City Hall believes today that funding is this close to being in hand for a multi-year design phase. Can the sound walls be far behind? Probably, given the way these things work, but at least no one's saying we won't have them at all.

Reading colleague Megan O'Neil's story on sound wall design funding that's coming our way, I was reminded of a conversation I had a decade ago with Dick DeGrey. He was a member of the La Cañada Valley Freeway Action Committee formed in 1963 when residents of the then-unincorporated town of La Cañada and the upscale area of Pasadena known as Flintridge banded together to try to halt plans to bisect our secluded valley with the freeway.

DeGrey (of the same generation as my parents) and I reminisced about the 1960s. From any corner of town in those days we were able to hear every note clearly when the church bells chimed at dinner time.

DeGrey told me the committee did a sound study to prepare for its fight against the state. "We studied varying noises of trucks, motorcycles and sports cars in the mainstream of white noise," he said. "Before the freeway, the loudest sound the engineers could find here were the crickets. That's how quiet a place this used to be."

Locals backed the committee's urging of a different route, the Green-Red Route, across the San Rafael Hills, which were not then as developed as they are today. So much so that a petition for approval of that route was signed by 7,624 residents. But the petition did nothing to sway the ultimate decision to go forward with the freeway, even though Los Angeles County Supervisor Warren Dorn lived here and was among the proponents of the Green-Red Route. Dorn was unable to elicit the necessary unanimous vote of the board of supervisors to reroute the project.

"I don't think there was a single one of us who felt we were going to win this battle," DeGrey said. "We never slackened our efforts or our attitude publicly, but I think we all felt this thing was kind of wired, that the state was going to go ahead with their plan. But there was no real reason the Green-Red Route wouldn't work out. That's what kept our hopes alive."

Those hopes dashed, there's a new one for the current generation to cling to, that sound walls will be installed. It won't return us to the days when chirping crickets were the loudest noise around, but it will be an improvement.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net.

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