November 30, 1996 - From the November, 1996 issue

Extension of the 710 Frwy—Battle Lines Drawn: Divided Communities vs. Environmental Justice


Francisco Leal: “The 710 freeway extension would produce negligible transportation benefits, degrade the environment, cause the demolition of 1,000 homes and devastate the community of El Sereno and the City of South Pasadena.”

By Francisco Leal, Beltran Leal & Medina, City Attorney for the City of South Pasadena. Against the extension of the 710 Freeway. 

In a raw exercise of political pressure, the City Council of Alhambra recently filed suit against the federal government, challenging funding for the Alameda Corridor by alleging the creation of adverse environmental justice impacts, for the sole purpose of trying to force the Department of Transportation to approve the 710 freeway extension. 

This suit is a serious misuse of environmental justice laws, which increasingly have been utilized in recent years to prevent the construction of environmentally degrading projects in ethnic and low income neighborhoods. The 710 freeway extension would produce negligible transportation benefits, degrade the environment, cause the demolition of 1,000 homes and devastate the community of El Sereno and the City of South Pasadena. 

In contrast to the Alhambra suit, residents of El Sereno, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Environmental Justice Resource Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund last year brought a legitimate environmental justice complaint against the California Department of Transportation for approving the freeway extension. El Sereno, a community that is 90% Latino, will be divided by a three-story high mass of concrete if the project is completed. 

The Alameda Corridor, which is widely supported by public officials, is a high-capacity truck/train corridor that will connect the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports with 

the major rail facilities in downtown Los Angeles greatly increasing the regional capacity for north-south trade travel. Implementation of this project will remove truck trips from the freeway system, which is an important regional goal. The Alameda Corridor project is vital to the California economy, having the potential to create 700,000 permanent jobs. 

On the other hand, local, state and federal taxpayers, historic preservation and environmental organizations, as well as a growing number of state and federal elected officials are opposed to the 710 extension proposal and do not support the notion that this problem-laden project will address regional needs. The 710 freeway extension is an outdated plan that needs to be laid to rest once and for all. We must solve our transportation problems without destroying communities, only later to find that more gridlock on our freeways is not the answer.

By Councilmember Barbara Messina, City of Alhambra. Supports the extension of the 710 Freeway.

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Alhambra's environmental justice lawsuit relates to the failure to complete the 710 Freeway, a delay causing the city to suffer a disproportionate share of traffic impacts, including increased air pollution, accidents, and other costs. A separate lawsuit seeks to block further planning, funding, and construction of the Alameda Corridor until mitigation alternatives, including completion of the 710 gap, are addressed. 

The 20-milc Alameda Corridor is planned to be a high volume, consolidated freight railway link between the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and regional and national rail systems. Locally, that means 100 to 150 additional train trips per day passing through many at-grade crossings, which increases north-south traffic delays throughout the San Gabriel Valley. 

Motorists seeking to avoid these long delays at the at-grade crossings will use Alhambra's north­south surface streets, where the east-west Southern Pacific Railroad is below street level. This will further increase traffic congestion, delay emergency response, increase noise and air pollution—all of which are problems caused by the 710's gap. 

The corridor's potential environmental impact on Alhambra must be studied to determine how the problem can be mitigated. Of course, one way to correct the situation is to complete the 710 Freeway, because as long as the 710 is stalled, the Alameda Corridor will make matters worse. 

Opponents called for a "low build" option as the one most sensitive to local concerns. Yet, this is environmentally the worst option studied. Seeking balance between regional and local interests, opponents don't mention the health impacts on 10,000 area school children by failing to close the gap. Each and every school day, these school children are exposed to air quality hot spots caused by the thousands of idling cars. It is disingenuous to ask that local concerns be given greater weight while pushing the one option that puts children most at risk.

Alhambra is one of 16 other cities, representing more than 4.6 million people, calling for completion of the 710—to benefit regional and local transportation. Alhambra continues to support the Alameda Corridor so long as that same goal is achieved.

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.