New ‘Beginning’ for Long Frustrated 710 Corridor Residents

New law adds provisions to expedite sale of 500 Caltrans properties.

By Paul Aranda Jr., EGP Staff Writer

With the recent signing of Senate Bill (SB) 416 on October 1st, the California Department of Transportation caught some residents off guard by moving quickly with a workshop last week at the El Sereno Senior Citizens Center to discuss the future sale of properties no longer needed for a transportation project.

Erick Solares, a deputy attorney at Caltrans, led the workshop that drew a standing room crowd of local residents gathered for the first of two public workshops organized to gather suggestions for regulations on the sales of surplus residential properties in an area known as the 710 corridor. The audience included residents from all areas within the corridor, from Pasadena to El Sereno.

Caltrans acquired the properties in El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena for a proposed extension of the 710 Long Beach freeway to the 210 Foothill freeway that was never built. Current efforts focus on an underground tunnel along with other alternatives including a light rail option and enhanced street traffic systems.

Solares told the crowd that the workshop is “the very beginning of the process.” He cited that these workshops bypass normal protocol by allowing residents to have input on the regulations before they are drafted. The suggestions however, cannot alter the current law, the Roberti Act, that governs the sales of surplus properties.

Local resident Teresa Almeida pressed Solares to provide a definitive timetable so she could make a decision on whether to purchase the home her mother has lived in for over thirty years.

“How can I make a decision if I don’t know what will be under my home?” Almeida asked.

Solares said it could take up to a year to have finalized regulations. Specific properties designated surplus will not be identified until the final environmental review for the current 710-project is complete. That review will determine the alignment of the route.

With a history that spans six decades, the 710-freeway project has slowly moved at the speed of traffic on existing southland freeways. Caltrans official, Paul Brown, told the audience that the passage of SB 416 represents “a new beginning for a new process.”

Before Caltrans can move on with its new process, it will have to face residents long troubled with its past performance.

Many residents expressed frustrations related to rent increases, poor maintenance, and gridlock on previous attempts to purchase their homes. One resident referred to the agency as a “slumlord” to the delight of many in the audience. Some of the suggestions that were provided by the audience included a rent credit towards the sales price. Others wanted the value of occupant paid for repairs to offset the sales price. The most popular suggestion was to freeze rent increases since the homes will eventually be sold.

Several residents voiced concerns over the ability of low- to moderate-income occupants to afford the homes even with the new priority provisions. Some suggested the ability to have co-signers with no income restrictions. Others want to see their “net income” used as a base income for any sale.

El Sereno resident Peter Garcia asked that a task force be created to review eligibility requirements to prevent developers from “land grabbing” properties. SB 416 provides a provision for low-income housing authorities to purchase property if no current or former occupant buys the property.

Specifically, four categories were created to identify priority of sale. The first three relate to current and prior occupants and the fourth one relates to housing-related entities with a goal to have occupants own the homes. Potential buyers cannot have owned real estate within the last three years, but it is unclear how that provision would impact current occupants who might need financial assistance from a relative who owns other property.

The Roberti Act and SB 416 aim to create affordable housing for local residents through the sales of surplus properties owned by state agencies. “We would love to see current occupants buy their homes,” Solares said. Current residents who are unable to purchase the home will receive non-monetary assistance. Solares did not define what the assistance is at the workshop. Solares said the next scheduled meetings will be held once the draft regulations are released which is tentatively scheduled between late 2013 and early 2014.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on October 1st. State Senator Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblymembers Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) and Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) drafted SB 416 to expedite the sale of 500 properties no longer needed to construct the northbound 710 freeway extension.

The bill sets up four tiers of priority for eligible tenants. Any unsold properties are to be auctioned off at fair market value. The bill creates an exemption to existing law by allowing

Caltrans to revise its definition of “fair market value” for the properties to reflect existing “as is” condition.  All proceeds from the sales will be deposited into a special account used to fund repairs until all required repairs are made. Once all the properties are sold, all remaining funds will be transferred to the State Highway Account for eligible projects in El Sereno, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra and La Cañada Flintridge.

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October 31, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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