Why Always Us? Ask East L.A. Residents

June 25, 2015 by · 4 Comments 

Angered by the possibility of another transportation project devastating their community, dozens of eastside residents expressed their opposition to a SR-710 North alternative they believe would once again require East Los Angeles to pay a high price for what is a regional problem.

“For decades, we have been the dumping grounds for the problems of other communities,” said Clara Solis Saturday during a Metro meeting in East L.A.

“Now we’re being asked once again to sacrifice for the greater good,” she said in disbelief.

[Read an introduction to the SR-710 North project here]
[Read about health concerns  http://egpnews.com/2015/06/health-concerns-weigh-heavy-on-east-l-a-residents/

It soon became clear that the majority of East L.A. residents at the meeting at Griffith Middle School believe the light rail train (LRT) alternative will disrupt a community already divide and surrounded by transportation projects.

Longtime East Los Angeles resident Margarita Sanchez, pictured left, scolds Metro officials for a SR-710 alternative she belives will devastate her community during a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Longtime East Los Angeles resident Margarita Sanchez, pictured left, scolds Metro officials for a SR-710 alternative she belives will devastate her community during a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“East L.A. has taken their burden, they have taken a fair share of projects,” said Jeffrey Hernandez, referring to the 60 (Pomona) 5 (Santa Ana/Golden State) and 710 (Long Beach) freeways and Metro Gold Line that were built to benefit traffic in the region but have splintered the eastside community.

Many said they prefer a tunnel over an elevated light rail train that would stay above ground through East L.A., but go underground in more affluent communities, such as South Pasadena, San Marino and La Canada.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard calls the light rail alternative an example of “environmental racism.”

“While the light rail is being proposed under the guise of a regional solution, the fact is it is nothing more than an irresponsible and unconscionable response to the more influential areas opposing the logical completion of the 710 Freeway,” she told EGP in a statement.

“Unfortunately, this light rail alternative is one more example of a minority community being sacrificed to appease more affluent neighborhoods.”

A similar statement from Roybal-Allard was read during Saturday’s meeting, drawing loud cheers from residents, heartened to hear an elected official speak so strongly in support of their community. Roybal-Allard represents East Los Angeles and Commerce, also located adjacent to the 710 freeway.

[Read her Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard’s full statement here]

The meeting was at times rowdy, as residents and business owners, often speaking loudly and passionately, demanded Metro officials give them a chance to be heard: something they said the agency failed to do during earlier scoping process.

When Metro officials refused to allow speakers who had gone over their allotted two minutes to keep speaking, the crowd at times responded angrily.

“Why not? Of course you can extend the amount of time,” one woman yelled out from the audience. Two minutes, “is not enough [time] for what we have to say.”

According to the Draft Environmental report, building the light rail would force the removal of 15 businesses.

“We in East L.A. have made a sacrifice to relieve traffic, we don’t need another Gold Line,” said Lily Hernandez. “What we need is jobs, we need progress and this alternative is going to hinder that,” Hernandez said.

Business owner Tony DeMarco, representing the Whittier Boulevard Merchants Association, said he believed the EIR/EIS process has been flawed since before it was expanded into East L.A.

“They should have allowed East L.A. to be in the discussion when there was 100 alternatives, not just when there’s 5 left.”

“The rich communities have had years to study this,” echoed Margarita Sanchez, a longtime East L.A resident. “You have the nerve to bring this to our community at the last minute.”

“It’s kind of like a take it or leave it attitude,” DeMarco said.

Many of those who oppose the light rail favor another controversial alternative.

“If you’re to give us what we need, give us a tunnel,” David Ibarra said defiantly.

However, Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice warned attendees not to be so quick to support the tunnel.

“East L.A. was so late in the process, [it’s] a tactic used to instigate more support for the tunnel project,” he told EGP.

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

“We need to get back to the scoping, not picking an alternative,” he said.

Dr. Tom Williams, a Sierra Club member and El Sereno resident, said he opposes all current alternatives. He said a community group is getting ready to submit yet another community alternative. In May, the cities of Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena gave their support to the Beyond the 710 coalition’s “6th alternative,” not in the Draft EIR.

The plan calls for expanding public transportation, building a four-lane boulevard, and more pedestrian- and bike-friendly paths to reduce traffic congestion in the western San Gabriel Valley. Construction ends south of those cities. The 710 Coalition — which includes several cities and communities along the 710 freeway that favor the tunnel alternative — criticized the new initiative as too late in the game and just a guise for tunnel opponents to “undermine Metro’s ongoing DEIR/EIS process, which took four years to be reviewed, processed and released.”

On Saturday, County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the community must continue to make sure their voices are heard during the review process. She agreed that more information about the impact to the region is warranted.

“As I have stated in more than one occasion, I do not believe that the East LA community has enough information about the health impacts of the different options for the 710 N. extension,” she told EGP in an email; stopping short of answering if she agrees with Roybal-Allard that the light rail train is another example of environmental racism.

“I do not see any of the alternatives as a natural choice, especially when considering the health, development, and economic impacts to those in my district,” Solis said. “I will continue to push Metro and Caltrans to be inclusive, transparent and responsive, until we have all the information we need to make a choice that helps … all residents of Los Angeles County.”

For East L.A. Chamber of Commerce Executive Board Member Eddie Torres, the choice is clear. He says his Chamber, the Whittier Merchants, Maravilla Business Improvement Assoc. and new East Los Angeles Advisory Board all support the tunnel alternative.

“We surveyed people leaving the meeting and about 80% said they want the tunnel, not a light rail, he told EGP. “ We’re hearing that Solis says we don’t want either, but that’s not true,” he said.

“Congresswoman Roybal-Allard has it right, she knows the community, she knows what we need and supports us.”

Health Concerns Weigh Heavy on East L.A. Residents

June 25, 2015 by · 5 Comments 

At a meeting in East Los Angeles Saturday, resident after resident voiced concern that a “plague” of pollution and health issues could rain down on their predominately Latino neighborhoods if they are forced to endure more light rail construction.

Their comments came during a public hearing at Griffith Middle School on Metro’s draft environmental report and study on alternatives for closing the gap between the Long Beach (710) and Pasadena (210) freeways.

[Read an introduction to the SR-710 project here]

Earlier that week, Martha Hernandez attended a meeting at Centro Maravilla in East L.A. with USC-Medical Center doctors who explained the substantial health risks tied to pollution.

“We were told air pollution causes asthma, diabetes, autism, and other illnesses,” she told EGP in Spanish.

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

Like Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, many people at the meeting believe they are the victims of environmental racism and injustice, and were given little say on a project that could tear up their community.

[Read her full statement here]

“I’ve had enough of those who want to continue taking advantage of East L.A. because we are Latinos,” said Carmen Gonzalez, who lives near Mednik and Third Street, where a light rail station would be built if this option is selected.

Speakers said past transportation projects have already left them exposed to high levels of toxic pollution.

“I have asthma and it’s harder for me to play football,” said Garfield High School student Timothy Williams.

“Think about the health of our children, emissions affect our community,” another speaker said.

“Air quality hasn’t been studied yet” but should be before anything is decided, said eastside resident Lili Hernandez.

Lea este artículo en Español: SR-710: Residentes del Este de Los Ángeles Preocupados por Su Salud

Living in an area with high levels of traffic pollution can lead to serious illnesses, according to a recent infographic, Living Near Busy Roads or Traffic Pollution, shared by the USC Environmental Health Center.

The infographic shows that women who are pregnant are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, giving birth to low-weight and/or premature babies, who in turn have higher levels of behavior or learning problems and autism; smaller lungs, asthma, ear, nose, throat infections and obesity. In adults, long-term exposure to pollution can lead to higher levels of heart disease, stroke, lung problems, memory loss and a shorter life span, the report found.

“We have schools, parks, the senior apartments and businesses” close to where they want to build the light rail, and there’s no doubt that’s harmful, Gonzalez told EGP in Spanish.

Before the meeting started, stakeholders were able to review maps and other documents pertaining to the five alternatives under consideration in the Draft EIR. They also had the chance to grill Metro staff about the plans.

One group of women directed their frustration at a Metro representative, questioning him about a now retired Metro employee’s assertion that metal scrapings from the elevated train – two stories high in some sections – would be released into the air and breathed in by unsuspecting residents.

Rudy Torres owns a business in East Los Angeles and says he supports the building of a 710 tunnel. He says, “It is the only [option] that doesn’t put a burden on East L.A. and cost life.”

The East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is actively fighting the light rail option, which they say will do nothing to relieve traffic on the 710 Freeway but will disrupt life on the eastside. The business group says a tunnel connecting the 710 to the 210 Freeway is a better solution for traffic reduction that will not be as harmful to the East L.A. community. “It will improve the flow of traffic and decrease traffic on surface streets north of Valley Boulevard, therefore reducing pollution in our local communities,” the Chamber states.

A little further south on the 710 corridor is the City of Commerce. The city’s residents on a daily basis experience the impact of diesel exhaust from the nearly 47,000 trucks that travel the 710 freeway everyday, and as many as 1,000 trucks an hour on the city’s main streets.

The daily exposure to high levels of exhaust causing pollution has raised Commerce residents’ risk for cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Last October, Commerce approved a resolution strongly supporting the effort to close the 4.5-mile gap “as soon as possible.” City officials believe completion of the freeway will alleviate traffic in local neighborhoods, generate economic development and create jobs in the region.

On Tuesday, Commerce unveiled one of the 20 the new “No Idling” signs that will be placed throughout the city targeting truck drivers who leave their engines running while stopped in the city.

Mayor Lilia Leon calls closing the 710 a much-needed regional effort to improve transportation. “Because there is not a connector, everybody ends up in Commerce,” Leon said. “If there was one, probably they would keep going on the 710,” she told EGP. “I’m sure it will alleviate the traffic flow,” she said.

Councilman Jose Huizar (CD14), who represents El Sereno, an L.A. neighborhood that has for decades been at the forefront of efforts to block the 710 expansions, disagrees.

On his website he states that he strongly opposes the 710 freeway expansion and believes a “multi-modal approach” — which could includes things like street light synchronization and dedicated bus lanes — is the better alternative to alleviate traffic.

“I oppose any option that disrupts the community of El Sereno or brings additional traffic to the area. The five alternatives in the Draft 710 EIR fall woefully short in my opinion,” Huizar told EGP via email.

“Working with local stakeholders and community groups, my office has begun the process of asking El Sereno and the surrounding communities a question that no one has asked them up until now: What do they want? What traffic improvements can we make locally that help, serve and advance the community of El Sereno?” Huizar said.

The councilman hosted a meeting on the SR-710 alternatives in El Sereno last week, which according to his spokesperson Rick Coca was “well-attended.” The “focus was entirely on truly listening to local residents to get their feedback – something that has been lacking in this process,” said Coca.

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

If the light rail train is constructed, 15 businesses will have to be moved and the new East LA Civic Center Plaza would be replaced with a train station. About 155 employees would lose their jobs according to the website East LA Against Injustice and Racism. Nueva Maravilla Public Housing and Kipp Raices Charter School—which will open in the fall—could also be taken.

Several residents told Metro that more studies and health assessments must be made before they reach a decision.

In the past “People proposed a lot of ideas that were ignored said East L.A. resident Luis Garcia.

The deadline to submit comments has been extended until August 5th.

 

Comments will be accepted by mail addressed to Garret Damrath, Caltrans Division 7, Division of Environmental Planning, 100 South Main Street MS-16, Los Angeles CA 90012

The full study is available at 

http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis

The document can be viewed at the Caltrans District Office, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

To read more about the SR-710, go to www.EGPNews.com.

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Twitter @jackieguzman

jgarcia@egpnews.com

 

 

 

It’s Time to Close 710 Gap, But Not With Light Rail

June 25, 2015 by · 6 Comments 

The goal of the State Route 710 North study is to address a nearly sixty-year delay in completing this Freeway. The unfinished SR 710 creates traffic jams, pollution, and an overall unhealthy environment, resulting in a lesser quality of life for the surrounding communities.

The proposed light rail route is an unacceptable alternative. It is one more example of the environmental racism with which East L.A. and Southeast citizens are only too familiar. While the light rail is being proposed under the guise of a regional solution, the fact is it is nothing more than an irresponsible and unconscionable response to the more influential areas opposing the logical completion of the 710 Freeway. The light rail does not solve the real problem of the 710 gap, nor will it reduce transportation congestion on the surrounding residential streets. It will, however, further divide and negatively impact East L.A. neighborhoods in the same way Boyle Heights, where I was born and raised, was divided and damaged by the building of the freeways. Furthermore, the light rail project will require destroying East L.A.’s newest economic development project, a business plaza that is home to 15 businesses and 155 jobs. Destroying these thriving businesses and eliminating jobs in a community that continues to suffer from unemployment that is higher than both the state and national levels is totally unacceptable.

I have fought environmental racism my entire political career. Unfortunately, this light rail alternative is one more example of a minority community being sacrificed to appease more affluent neighborhoods. This is highlighted by the fact that the proposed light rail does nothing to address the real issue of an incomplete 710, and the commuter traffic it dumps onto our city streets. Further evidence is that the proposed light rail is elevated in the East L.A. area, but goes underground once it leaves East L.A.!

Of the five alternatives presented to us in the Draft EIR, the freeway tunnel is the only alternative that meets the stated goal of improving the efficiency of the existing regional freeway and transit networks. It is also the only alternative that provides a seamless transportation route for commuters on the 710 corridor.

It is long past the time to do the responsible thing and close the 710 gap!

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard represents California’s 40th District, which includes the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, Downey, Bellflower, Vernon, and Paramount, as well as South Los Angeles and the unincorporated areas of East Los Angeles.

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