Metro Board Redirects $700 Million Away From 710 Freeway Tunnel

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

In a move that could effectively kill the Long Beach (710) Freeway tunnel extension between Alhambra and Pasadena, the Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to redirect its $700 million for the project to alterative street improvements.

The unanimous 12-0 vote ran contrary to a Metro staff report endorsing the tunnel, which would run 4.9 miles and help close the 6.2-mile gap between the 710’s terminus and the Foothill (210) Freeway, at total cost of over $3 billion.

But with Metro pulling its portion of the funding, the project may effectively now be dead, although Caltrans has the final authority on building the tunnel and is expected to vote on the issue later this year or in 2018.

The motion redirecting the money was introduced by Metro board Chairman and Duarte City Councilman John Fasana and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Fasana had previously supported the tunnel but said he was reversing course because he did not believe the full funding for the project would ever materialize and he wanted to help the communities along the corridor immediately, particularly where freeway traffic is dumped at the end of the 710
Freeway in Alhambra.

“I thought the tunnel was the best approach. I have also come to the realization that it is not fundable. If it happened it would be many, many years away,” Fasana said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Metro board member, said he sympathized with both sides but also did not believe the funding for the tunnel would ever materialize.

“So eyes wide open, let’s think of the incremental things. What can we do so that folks who are choked on public streets, who do suffer from asthma and cancer have real options,” Garcetti said.

The possibility of a 710 extension has been on the table for decades, but has been thwarted by generations of opposition from some of the communities in its path, including South Pasadena.

Caltrans began in the 1950s and 1960s buying empty lots, houses and apartments along the planned route of the surface freeway extension. But a series of lawsuits and opposition from some communities and activists has kept the project in perpetual limbo for decades.

Last year, Caltrans began the process of selling off the houses and apartments it owns along the corridor as part of its shift away from a surface freeway extension and toward a tunnel or other options.

The tunnel received a wave of momentum after county voters approved Measure R in 2008, a half-cent sales tax that raised $780 million for improvements along the 710 corridor, some of which has already been spent on studies and reports.

Some leaders of communities along the corridor, including Alhambra, have been in support of the tunnel as a viable alterative to relieve the extra congestion and air pollution caused by freeway traffic cutting through the surface streets. But other communities have opposed it out of safety concerns over building the tunnel and with doubts that it would relieve congestion or reduce air pollution in the area.

A Metro study concluded the tunnel would carry 90,000 vehicles and remove 42,000 vehicles a day from local streets. But the Metro board’s vote will redirect the agency’s $700 million that had been dedicated to the project toward traffic, safety and public transportation improvements along the gap corridor and the greater San Gabriel Valley area.

The alternative choices endorsed by Metro are included as options in Caltrans’ draft environmental report on the tunnel, which was issued in 2015 and removed a surface freeway as an option.

Dozens of public speakers lined up at the board meeting to voice opposition or support for the motion, including prominent public officials from communities near and along the corridor.

“Supporting the tunnel should be a no-brainer for the board. Our goal is to relieve congestion in our neighborhoods,” Alhambra Mayor David Mejia said.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to endorse a state Senate bill that would prohibit the construction of the tunnel while creating an I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Zone Advisory Committee, which would review alternative options to a tunnel.

 

SR-710: Metro Committee Backs ‘Transportation Management’ Over Tunnel

May 24, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

Decades of uncertainty and discord over the controversial State Route 710 North project could soon turn a new page if transportation officials vote Thursday to adopt a recommendation to fund a traffic management system as the preferred route to fill the transportation “gap” between the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways.

The decision by the Metro Ad-Hoc Congestion, Highway and Roads Committee to support the traffic management system alternative over a proposal to build a 6.3-mile tunnel to close the gap, however, is not without controversy.

Eddie Torres, president of the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a longtime proponent of the tunnel alternative, told EGP he was stunned by committee member and Metro Board Chair John Fasana’s unexpected motion to bypass the tunnel option for the street management system.

Fasana is also mayor pro tem of Duarte — a San Gabriel Valley city where streets are not impacted by the traffic spilling over from the 710 terminus in Alhambra — and had previously expressed support for the tunnel alternative.

Torres went on to say he believes Fasana was pushed to make the motion and become the “bad guy” because the decision would not be controversial among his constituents.

The proposed traffic management system, one of five alternatives under consideration in the SR-710 Study, would upgrade and synchronize signals and make other enhancements to local streets and intersections. Proponents say it’s a more cost-effective and achievable plan to improve the traffic congestion that has made traveling north from the 710’s end on Valley Boulevard to connect to the 210 in South Pasadena a nightmare.

Last week, after two years reviewing some 8,000 public comments and weighing the impacts and benefits of each of the five alternatives under consideration, the SR-710 Study team presented the tunnel option as the preferred alternative to Metro’s Ad-Hoc Committee, but with a caveat.

In a letter to stakeholders, Metro officials explained the single bore freeway tunnel with tolls and truck restrictions was the alternative that “best addresses the purpose and need of the project,” however, with a price tag of $1.5 billion, it is “not fundable in the foreseeable future.”

(METRO)

(METRO)

Only $780 million in Measure R funds were earmarked for the SR-710 North project.

In response, Fasana moved to make the transportation system management alternative the preferred option. His motion calls for using $105 million of the Measure R funds to build the system and for the remainder to be used on new mobility improvement projects to relieve congestion in the San Gabriel Valley.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council threw its support behind legislation by a Pasadena assemblyman that would prohibit the construction of a tunnel to extend the 710 Freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena. Residents of the more affluent areas of Pasadena and South Pasadena have long opposed the tunnel and most other options as disruptive to their neighborhoods, while residents in less affluent East Los Angeles and Commerce have complained they have disproportionately shouldered the burden of the region’s transportation needs.

The bill by Assemblyman Chris Holden — which failed its first hearing in April but could be reconsidered — would create the I-710 Gap Corridor Transit Zone Advisory Committee, which would review a wide range of mass transit options to fill the 6.2-mile gap between Alhambra and Pasadena, which currently are linked only by surface streets. They would recommend solutions that do not include a tunnel or a surface freeway.

It’s not clear if the options to be considered would be those already considered in the SR-710 Study and Draft EIR, or if the process would start over.

The panel would include representatives from the cities of Alhambra, Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena, along with Caltrans, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and select members of the California Legislature.

Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents communities in northeast L.A. near the 710 gap, was the lone dissenter to the resolution supporting Holden’s bill.

“We should move away from the kind of hysteria that gets engendered by this discussion and move into a dispassionate discussion about the benefits of a tunnel and how it accomplishes the goals of all of those communities impacted,” Cedillo said.

Metro received 1,328 comments supporting the tunnel alternative. Torres calls the traffic management system a “band aid solution.”

“Why ask us for our opinion if you’re only going to use money as an excuse to not give us what we want,” he complained.

If not fundable, Metro officials should have removed the tunnel as an option years ago when the cost estimates were released, Torres said.

“Why spend money on this study and process if they already knew how expensive [the tunnel] would be” and had no way to make it a reality, he added in frustration.

Over the last few years, Metro has held dozens of public hearings and informational workshops in the various communities impacted by the SR-710. They shared the findings from the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement on each of the five alternatives, which also included a light rail train, a rapid bus line and a “no build” option.

Members of the 710 coalition, a group in favor of the tunnel with members from Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino, were thrilled to learn the study team’s report favored a tunnel, which they argue will reduce congestion, air pollution, emissions and cut-through traffic.

“Lets stop debating and start building,” urged Alhambra Mayor Dave Mejia in a note to supporters last week. But upon learning of the new motion, Monterey Park Mayor Teresa Real Sebastian urged residents to attend the upcoming Metro Board meeting to express their disapproval.

“Instead of listening to Metro staff, the Ad Hoc Committee approved a motion that goes against the wishes of the voters when you approved Measure R and the completion of the 710 gap,” she wrote in an email to residents.

According to Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar’s spokesperson, Rick Coca, his boss is concerned there are no specific provisions in Fasana’s motion to relieve traffic congestions in two of the most highly impacted areas, East Los Angeles and El Sereno, a neighborhood the councilman represents.

Those areas have been inundated with commuters trying to get around traffic tie-ups, and the resulting pollution from vehicle emissions.

But Huizar on Wednesday voted to support Holden’s bill, saying he, Sup. Hilda Solis and Mayor Garcetti all oppose building a tunnel.

“All of us agree that it’s time to get away from this boondoggle of a project that’s going to cost billions of dollars but not ease much traffic … that those dollars instead be used for a more efficient way, a more 21st century way, in planning for transportation,” Huizar said.

According to Coca, Huizar will send a letter to the Metro Board detailing his concerns with the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendation, and advocate that the plan ultimately approved serve the needs of his eastside constituents.

The Metro Board could vote on Fasana’s motion as early as Thursday. A final environmental document is expected to be completed in 2018 before the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 makes the final selection on the alternative to move forward.

Information from City News Service used in this report.

 

Properties Not Needed for ‘710’ Project Go Up for Sale

December 22, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

Caltrans is beginning the process of selling 42 residential properties it has owned for six decades along the proposed State Route 710 Corridor in Pasadena, South Pasadena and in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno, the state transportation agency announced Monday.

“The selling of these properties — that have been owned by the state for six decades — is about keeping our promise to the community to help it create a neighborhood they can be proud of,” said California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly.

The properties were purchased long ago as part of a plan to extend the 710 Freeway from Valley Boulevard in Alhambra to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. Due to a series of delays and legal challenges, the plan never came to fruition, leaving Caltrans in the position of landlord in the years since.

Caltrans is now exploring other options, including a double-decker tunnel, a light rail system or a busway. The agency has so far received $780 million for the 710 project through Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects approved by county voters in 2008. The price for the tunnel option is estimated at nearly $6 billion.

The properties going up for sale are among 460 the department purchased — ranging from large mansions in tony South Pasadena to modest bungalows in working class El Sereno, empty lots and apartment buildings — along the proposed corridor but which Caltrans says are now outside the scope of any of the current plans under consideration.

The transportation department has over the years been criticized for its management of the properties, including at one time charging rents significantly below market rate for larger homes, and for piling up complaints over inadequate and delayed maintenance.

A series of public meetings were held to take comments on the sale process, which at times pitted residents against the transportation agency.

Residents, including some former owners of the properties or their heirs, as well as other long time tenants, were at odds over the value of the properties, as wells as what is considered affordable in terms of rent or the potential sales price.

They also battled over interpretation of the agreement Caltrans reached decades ago with property owners regarding the disposition of properties not needed for the final transportation corridor plan.

Notices of conditional offers were mailed Friday to the current occupants of the 42 residential properties that will be sold as part of the Affordable Sales Program. Current occupants and former owners, if they meet the agency’s income requirements, are first in line to buy the homes at discounted prices.

A state law passed in 1979 to promote homeownership allows low-income renters to buy the homes at below market value. Tenants earning less than 150% of the county median income are also eligible for the below market sale price. Prospective buyers have three months to notify Caltrans if they are interested in buying the home.

Properties not sold will be then be offered for sale under a hierarchical formula established by Caltrans, with affordable housing developers taking the second option followed by current tenants with higher incomes who would be allowed to buy at market rate. Former tenants in reversed order of occupancy would be next in line, with any unsold properties to then be sold at public auction.

The department says it will also provide affordable rental options for eligible occupants and establish a trust fund for future affordable housing programs.

“This is a major step toward returning these properties to both the community and to the families who may have a chance at being a homeowner for the first time,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.

Information from City News Service used in this report.

 

Travelers Beware: East LA Jam Returns Friday

October 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Motorists in East Los Angeles will experience traffic delays and detours this weekend during a 35-hour closure of the north and southbound Long Beach (710) Freeway at Olympic Boulevard so Caltrans can make repairs to damaged pavement on the freeway bridge above Olympic Boulevard.

The damaged section is 96 feet long and 53 feet wide, according to Caltrans.

The closure will begin Friday, Oct. 28 at 11 p.m. and continue until Sunday, Oct. 30 at 10 a.m., according to Caltrans.

Delays on 1-710 could affect nearby freeways and local streets so Caltrans is urging motorists to plan ahead and consider finding alternate routes.

The work is part of a $120 million pavement-replacement project on the  710 Freeway between the Century (105) and San Bernardino (10) freeways. The project is expected to be completed next year, according to Caltrans.

L.A. Mayor Asks Commerce Council to Support Measure M

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Hoping to garner support for a November ballot transit measure, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a trip to Commerce City Hall Tuesday to ask the city council to drop its opposition to Measure M, which if approved by voters will authorize a permanent one-cent increase in the sales tax to fund transportation project.

“I’m here to ask for your support,” Garcetti told the council in what turned out to be a one-way dialogue with Garcetti doing all the talking.

Commerce is among a group of East and Southeast area cities opposed to the passage of Measures M on grounds that their constituents will be paying in to the fund for decades before any of their transportation woes are addressed.

The tax hike would generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, new rail and bus lines and transportation improvements.

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the Commerce City Council Tuesday during a presentation on Measure M. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Proponents of the transit tax claim it will help solve the region’s traffic congestion problems, improve air quality and create jobs.

Cities opposing the tax hike are unhappy that improvements to transit projects in their region, such as the 1-5 and 710 freeways, will be delayed under Measure M. They claim the distribution of projects favor the western and northern parts of the County.

Garcetti pointed out projects in some parts of Los Angeles will also not see funding for 30 years.

Surprisingly, council members did not use the opportunity to reiterate their opposition to the Measure, or to get the visiting mayor and Metro chair to agree to work with the city on transportation issues in the future.

In August, the 23 cities that makeup the Gateway Cities Council of Government, including Commerce, spearheaded an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impacts would or would not have. That same month, Commerce and a handful of cities unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit claiming Measure M was misleading when it failed to state the proposed tax would be permanent.

“We’re friends no matter what, before or after,” Garcetti assured Commerce council members.

“I urge you to support Measure M, if not, can you stay neutral?”

Garcetti acknowledged that the city of Commerce, home to 13,000 residents but a daytime working population of 80,000, did have a good argument when they questioned what the return would be to their city.

“But if nothing passes it will be more than 30 years” before transportation issues in the region are addressed, Garcetti told EGP following his presentation.

Currently, Commerce generates about $8 million a year in Measure R sales tax revenue for the county, but annually only gets back about $150,000. The city’s contribution would double to $16 million under Measure M, but it would only receive around $300,000 a year based on its population.

Commerce previously supported Measure R, a temporary half-cent tax that will sunset in 2039 unless it is made permanent under Measure M, which adds an additional half-cent to the sales tax. A two-third margin is required for Measure M to pass. In 2012, a similar ballot measure failed to pass by less than 1 percent.

“We all know it takes a few to defeat this, why not come together to solve our traffic woes,” Garcetti told council members, who did not respond to his statement, instead voting to just receive and file his presentation without action.

 

Caltrans Multi-Weekend 710 Freeway Closures Start Friday

September 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A pavement-replacement project will force nine weekend-long closures of the northbound Long Beach (710) Freeway through East Los Angeles, beginning this week.

According to Caltrans, the northbound 710 will be closed between the Santa Ana (5) and Pomona (60) freeways on nine weekends for about 55 hours, from 10 p.m. Fridays until 4 a.m. Mondays.

The first scheduled closure will be this weekend, Sept. 23-26. The closure will be repeated each successive weekend, with the exception of the weekends of Oct. 7-10, Oct. 28-31, Nov. 11-14 and Nov. 25-28.

Caltrans officials urged motorists to avoid the area, and use the Harbor (110) or San Gabriel River (605) freeways as alternates.

Crews will be placing a series of concrete slabs as part of the pavement-replacement project.

According to Caltrans, crews will install as many as 90 concrete panels on the roadway each weekend, with the panels ranging in size from 14 to 47 feet wide.

The work is part of a $120 million pavement-replacement project on the 710 Freeway between the Century (105) and San Bernardino (10) freeways. The project is expected to be completed next year, according to Caltrans.

Two Killed After Vehicle Veers off Freeway

September 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A man and a woman were killed early Monday when their 2016 Kia flew off the Long Beach (710) Freeway and struck a tree in Lynwood, authorities said.

The coroner’s office later identified them as Los Angeles residents Braller Nunez, 23, and Beatriz Ortiz, 21.

The crash was reported around 4:30 a.m. off the northbound Long Beach (710) Freeway approaching the Imperial Highway interchange, said California Highway Patrol Officer Stephan Brandt.

For an unknown reason, the driver, Ortiz, made an unsafe turning movement toward the right and the car traveled down an embankment where it crashed into a tree, according to CHP Officer M. Ochoa.

Ortiz was wearing a seatbelt but Nunez was not, authorities said. Both victims were pronounced dead at the scene, Ochoa said.

Alcohol and drugs are suspected to be a factor in the crash, he added.

The investigation is ongoing.

Southeast Areas Question Measure M Benefits

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Located along the state’s worst traffic bottleneck, the city of Commerce has for decades had to deal with more than its fair share of traffic, yet it’s unlikely that a proposed half-cent sales tax hike going before voters in November will help alleviate the area’s transportation woes anytime soon.

Home to hundreds of distribution and manufacturing businesses and located along a major rail yard and network of freeways, Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa points out that the city is one of the country’s busiest “ports.”

“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” but he said the “dry port” receives no special state or federal funding to support its role in the goods movement.

“This is a regional place of investment and employment,” but “the southeast won’t see the benefits of this new tax for the first 15 years,” Rifa told EGP.

In November, voters will decide whether to approve an added half-cent sales tax that could generate at least $860 million annually for highway and street repairs, transportation improvements, and new rails and bus lines in Los Angeles County. If approved by the two-third margin required to raise taxes, the half-cent bump would start in 2017, permanently increasing the Measure R temporary half-cent sales tax hike to a full cent.

Measure R was approved by voters in 2008 as a temporary increase and is currently set to sunset in 2039.

Metro officials tout Measure M as a solution to the region’s traffic congestion problems that will also improve air quality and create jobs.

Large trucks overflow into the streets surrounding the I-5 and 710 freeways in Commerce, creating gridlock traffic throughout the day. (EGP photo archive)

Large trucks overflow into the streets surrounding the I-5 and 710 freeways in Commerce, creating gridlock traffic throughout the day. (EGP photo archive)

Rifa counters that in Commerce the claim should be accompanied by “fine print that says ‘20 years from now.’”

Like Measure R, Measure M would earmark funds generated for specific transportation projects outlined in an expenditure plan. The proposal has angered communities along the County’s southeast corridor that accuse Metro’s Board of pushing Measure R approved projects to the back burner under Measure M’s new expenditure plan.

Unhappy that improvements to the I-5 and 710 freeways and other regional transportation plans would be delayed under Measure M, the 23 cities that make up the Gateway Cities Council of Government are now spearheading an educational outreach campaign to specifically inform voters what Measure M’s impact would or would not have in the region.

In Commerce, the impact goes beyond the obvious traffic and environmental concerns and deals directly with the region’s goods movement, says Eddie Tafoya, executive director of the Commerce Industrial Council – Chamber of Commerce.

“We get a significant amount of traffic based on the role Commerce plays in the regional distribution of goods,” he explains. “If it’s not Vernon, it’s Commerce,” he told EGP.

Metro’s Chief Communication Officer Pauletta Tonilas told EGP it’s important to note that the agency has been working on its expenditure plan for years.

“We understand that not everyone is thrilled but this plan reflected what we heard from stakeholders,” she said. “We believe it is balanced and equitable.”

Currently, Commerce generates about $8 million a year in Measure R sales tax revenue for the county, but annually only gets back about $150,000. The city’s contribution would double to $16 million under Measure M, but it would only receive around $300,000 a year based on its population.

Tafoya is quick to point out however that while the industrial city only has 13,000 residents, its daytime population swells to nearly 80,000 people when you take into account the number of workers who flock to the city.

An additional 230,000 jobs are located in communities bordering the I-5 Freeway, including Downey, La Mirada, Montebello, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon in addition to Commerce.

“These jobs are all predicated on the use of freeways and yet [Metro] won’t be touching the I-5 for another 20 years,” complains Rifa.

Tonilas pointed out that not all major projects could be funded at once.

“Everything can’t happen in the first 10 years,” she told EGP. “The time sequence was based on when funds would be available.”

The Industrial Council surveyed businesses in the city and according to Tafoya, over 40 percent responded that traffic congestion is the leading reason they would consider moving out of L.A. County.

There’s no escaping that the high volume of goods traveling through the region leads to more truck traffic and congestion, said Tafoya, noting that “the I-5 is a parking lot.”

“This has a detrimental impact to the economy and quality of life,” he points out.

Tonilas says private-public partnerships would allow businesses to help fund and accelerate some projects.

Last week, the Commerce City Council approved $20,000 to support Gateway Cities’ public outreach efforts in the southeast region. Half of the money will be used to fund a local informational campaign.

“We think, as a region and community, [the plan is] short of being balanced,” Rifa told EGP. “The corridor has been shortchanged.”

Mayor Ivan Altamirano, who pushed for more funding for outreach, agrees. “I really think that’s very little to what we can potentially lose here,” he told EGP.

Before the vote, Councilman Hugo Argumedo noted that efforts to inform voters about what’s at stake locally would be an uphill battle.

“I’m sorry to say this guys, we can say $100,000, but guess what, we’re going to be outgunned,” he told the council, explaining the importance of mobilizing efforts in areas where there are the most votes.

Because city funds are being used, the materials distributed must walk a fine line of educating and not campaign against the measure.

The city, however, is no stranger to voicing its views on transportation projects and their local impacts.

Commerce has been front and center in talks about the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension Phase 2 project. The city was successful in convincing Metro to consider a route that would include a light rail stop within its borders.

Rifa told EGP the transit measure has been and will continue to be a regular fixture on the city’s agenda as city officials are frustrated with the totality of the plan connected to the new tax.

“The southeast was a huge supporter of Measure R, now we are being ignored,” he said. “The balance has been lost and we must protect our jobs.”

 

Bill to Expand Metro Board Introduced

June 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A bill to increase the number of Metro board members was re-introduced last week by Sen. Tony Mendoza, who cites the need for a board that more fairly represents all of Los Angles County, specifically southeast communities along the 710 Long Beach and I-5 Santa Ana freeways in great need of traffic relief.

Senate Bill 522 would add 10 more members to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, increasing the number of seats to 24, ensuring the county’s 10 million residents are equally represented, said Mendoza.

Currently, the board is made up of the five county supervisors, four representatives of Los Angeles including Mayor Eric Garcetti, Metro’s CEO, and one councilmember each from the cities of Duarte, Glendale, Inglewood and Lakewood.

“With the exception of Lakewood, everything east of the 710 [freeway] lacks representation,” pointed out Mendoza.

Under SB 528, three of the 10 new seats would go to the city of L.A. and one each to the city of Long Beach and appointees of the Senate Pro Tem and Assembly Speaker. The remaining four would be filled by other municipalities.

Critics fear the bill will diminish the voting power of Los Angeles, the county’s largest city. But with 7 seats on the 24-member board, Mendoza says L.A.’s influence will not decrease.

Transportation agencies in surrounding areas have significantly larger boards than Metro. The San Bernardino Associated Governments has 31 members, Riverside Transit Agency 22 and the Orange County Transportation Authority has 18 members on its board.

“They keep numbers low to keep control,” said Mendoza, referring to outsized influence of L.A. and cities on the Westside. “We need to create balance so that everyone has a voice and a fair vote.”

The Board is opposed to any legislation that would change its makeup, Metro spokesman Rick Jagger told EGP.

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The I-5 Santa Ana and 710 Long Beach freeways is an area in the County in need of traffic relief. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Any discussion or change in the Board should take place in L.A. County not through a mandate from Sacramento,” he said.

Last week, Metro’s board approved a ballot measure that if approved would levy a special half-cent sales tax to pay for more than $120 billion projects in the county’s new transit improvement plan, which includes a new subway line from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, new extensions from Claremont to Culver City and San Fernando to the South Bay.

Unlike previous transit funding measures that expire, such as Measure R, the new tax would be permanent.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the “bold transportation plan will relieve congested roads, connecting our region with robust, comprehensive transportation systems we need and deserve.”

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and representatives from other municipalities had asked Metro to postpone approval of the plan and proposed ballot measure until the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee had a chance to review it at a public hearing.

De Leon authored SB767 last year, which authorized Metro to place a transportation and use tax on the ballot.

“Given the involvement of the state on this matter and feedback Senators have received directly from local stakeholders, we believe it is appropriate to hold an oversight hearing to discuss how Metro evaluated proposed projects … and also to assess the fairness and equity of the plan,” de Leon wrote in a letter to Metro.

The public hearing was set for June 24; one day after Metro approved its plan.

The refusal to postpone the vote prompted Mendoza to re-introduce legislation to change the board’s makeup. A previous bill authored by Mendoza was shelved by the senator in the hope that Metro would consider coming up with a plan that did not postpone projects in the eastside and southeast communities.

“They just don’t care about this side of the town,” Mendoza told EGP. “They chose to expedite projects that serve the wealthier population.”

One of the projects delayed under the county’s new transportation plan includes a light rail line from Union Station to Artesia with stops in Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount and Bellflower. After decades on the shelf, the Eco Rapid transit rail, which serves Mendoza’s constituents, would be pushed back another 20 years to 2047.

“This project would help people who are transit dependent,” Mendoza said. The southeast has not seen any new transit projects since 1995 when the Green Line opened.

“It seems the poor communities will continue to struggle with congestion, pollution and traffic,” he criticized.

At the Commerce City Council meeting last week, City Manager Jorge Rifa said he too is disappointed with Metro’s plan, which would push back much-needed traffic improvements along the I-5 and 710 freeways that wrap around the city.

“We can’t wait another 20 years for this part of the freeway to be fixed,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us because this is an economic corridor.”

If approved in November, revenue from the added tax is expected to be at least $860 million a year. Some cities, including Commerce, would see their sales tax increase to 10 cents on every dollar.

“If we don’t have input it will impact the future decisions on how Metro spends money,” warned Mendoza. “So far they are taking us for granted and don’t take us into consideration.”

Proposed Retail Center Splits Commerce

April 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A proposal to build a retail complex that could include a big box type retail store on Washington Boulevard near the 710 Long Beach Freeway in the City of Commerce is drawing heat from a local environmental group, at the same time others in the city say the development will bring needed jobs and added revenue to the city.

Plans for the for the proposed Commerce Retail Center Project on Washington, running from the 710 Freeway to Atlantic Boulevard, and from Washington Boulevard to Sheila Street, include a 122,450-square-foot “Major Anchor” retail store, with adjoining restaurants and other retail spaces.

Lea este artículo en Español: Centro Comercial Propuesto Divide a Residentes de Commerce

It would be built on land the city is selling as required under the state’s dissolution of redevelopment agencies across the state. The city is in escrow with Gatwick Group, LLC, however, the sale is contingent on approval of the retail project.

The city’s planning commission reviewed plans for the proposed development, but last week split 2-2 on whether or not to recommend approval to the city council. One of the five commissioners recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest.

Speculation among the project’s opponents is that the project applicant, Venture Retail Group, plans to lease the site to Walmart, although no specific retailer is named in the project, only a description that describes a retail format found at many of Walmart’s larger stores.

Planning Commissioner Mike Alvarado told EGP he strongly supports the project, saying it would again make Commerce a “Model City,” a reference to the city’s motto.

“The city, as it is now, looks horrible, it is decaying,” Alvarado told EGP, explaining that revenue generated from the development would help pay for repairs to streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure put off for years.

Opponents, however, say the land is too contaminated with toxic chemicals spread by the now closed Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon and past industrial uses. It is “irresponsible” to move forward without first creating a cleanup plan, says Mark Lopez, director of Commerce-based East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

The property was once home to a heavy machinery business, according to Lopez. Toxic materials, percholorethylene (PCE) and tetrachloroethylene (TCE), that could affect movement and control of the body, can be found on the site, Lopez said.

A final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Commerce Retail Center Project was released on March 3 of this year and is waiting approval. Lopez believes the review of potential environmental issues, including health hazards has been inadequate.

He says the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) hasn’t yet characterized the elevated levels of soil contamination, adding the organization does not “trust” DTSC to do an adequate oversight job given the agency’s failures in the Exide contamination issue.

DTSC however, citing its “great deal of experience and expertise overseeing the investigation and cleanup of these types of properties across the state,” told EGP in an email statement that the agency is using its “expertise to ensure the work at the Gatwick site in the City of Commerce is done properly so property is safe for its planned use.”

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

View of site for proposed retail development at Washington and Atlantic boulevards. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

The agency said it has reviewed and evaluated the developer’s risk assessment and cleanup plans and “sent our comments back to the developer for revision,” DTSC spokesperson Sandy Nax told EGP.

“In addition, the developer has recently acquired a new land parcel within the same block from the City of Commerce. DTSC has required investigation of the subsurface soil in the new parcel and the Proponent will be conducting soil sampling soon.”

East Yards and others also say they are concerned the project could negatively impact the I-710 Corridor Project to improve an 18-mile stretch of the I-710 from Long Beach to the Pomona 60 Freeway in East Los Angeles. The goal of the 710 project is to “improve air quality/public health, improve traffic safety, modernize the freeway design” to accommodate projected growth in the area.

The project has been under review for years, and at one time contained a proposal to take upwards of 100 homes in the Ayers neighborhood to make room for the expansion. If built, the retail center would be located near the 710 Freeway where Lopez said they fought to locate the new northbound off-ramp to avoid the taking of the Ayers neighborhood.

“So part of our struggle was to redesign the project so it wouldn’t take those homes and what we did, instead of having the off-ramp [east of the freeway], it would come to the other side where they want to put the Walmart,” Lopez said, adding they know for a fact that a Walmart is slated to open on the site.

“So if they build a Walmart, who’s going to have better protections from the lawyers, Walmart or the homes?” asked Lopez.

Lauren Wonder, a spokesperson for Caltrans District 7, told EGP there is currently no project alignment for the I-710 project. Nothing has been decided, she said. “The time frame for the final environmental impact report is now early 2017.”

Until the final I-710 EIR is published, comments received and the document is finalized, any discussion of future impacts “will only be a speculation,” Commerce’s Publics Works Director Maryam Babaki told EGP.

Both Babaki and Alvarado say it could take 10 or more years to move the I-710 project, and the city can’t just wait until it does.

Alvarado said he has no problem if Walmart ultimately winds up being the anchor tenant, adding he wants a tenant that will attract more people and benefit other businesses in the area.

Commerce’s General Plan calls for service commercial, general commercial and light industrial uses in the area. A big box store, like Walmart or Target, could generate $600,000 to $800,000 in added revenue per year for the city, according to Maryam Babaki, Commerce’s director of Public Works.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano told EGP he hasn’t decided whether to support the project, saying, “this is not a decision to be taken lightly.”

“I want to know all the players and pieces of this project and quite frankly I don’t believe all of that information has been disclosed,” he said.

“Our community is actually divided on this project. It seems like everyone in the city is already calling this project Walmart except for the developers.”

Altamirano said several factors must be taken in consideration, such as the impact on traffic and the number of good paying jobs it will bring for residents. We also have to look at crime in the area, and whether there are enough sheriff deputies to patrol the area, he told EGP.

Alvarado told EGP the city is already working on traffic improvements in the area, including the widening of Washington Boulevard. The opponents are “a group of people that want to hold back progress of the community,” he said. He and others believe the real issue is opposition to Walmart.

East Yards calls Walmart’s employment track record “problematic,” claiming company workers earn low-wages and work too few hours to qualify for benefits, and has closed up stores with little notice to employees.

Alvarado doesn’t buy the argument, and points out that that other businesses in the area, including at the Citadel, only pay their employees the minimum wage and “nobody complains.”

A date has yet to be set for the project to go before the full city council for review, but it is likely to be within the next few weeks, said Alvarado.

Altamirano said that he will not be rushed into making a decision that will have such a significant impact on the community.

“Once all the information is provided then we can move forward on what is best for the residents of Commerce,” the mayor said.

“Those that don’t want a Walmart are rightfully concerned about the negative effects Walmart has historically had on communities. Those that are in favor of the project I believe really just want a shopping option, Walmart or not.”

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Twitter @jackiereporter

jgarcia@egpnews.com

galvarez@egpnews.com

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