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Newsom’s Pen Puts ‘Final Nail’ in 710 Plan

It’s official … or so most everybody is saying. The 710 has been 86’d.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law over the weekend a pair of bills — one authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden, the other by state Sen. Anthony Portantino — that officially take the proposed 710 freeway extension off the state’s highway grid as of Jan. 1, 2024 and put to rest decades of local opposition to the 710 controversial proposal.

The extension would have been a connector from Alhambra to Pasadena, with a tunnel running through South Pas.

On Saturday, Newsom first signed Holden’s Assembly Bill 29. Later in the day, the governor inked Portantino’s Senate Bill 7 — a measure that, like Holden’s, takes the proposed extension off the state highway map but also is wider in scope, incorporating housing and other development matters along the route of the now-defunct project.

Typically, the latter bill signed by a governor would supersede any earlier one when the subjects are similar — a process called “chaptering.” But in this case, according to the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the non-partisan legal arm of the Legislature, since both bills amend Section 253.1 of the state’s Streets and Highways Code in an identical manner, Portantino’s would basically absorb the points of Holden’s.

The reason such legalese is significant here is: Both Holden and Portantino can now claim co-credit for bringing closure to an issue that has dominated South Pas politics for decades.

Indeed, both legislators quickly issued press releases over the weekend proclaiming their measures as “the final nail” in the 710’s coffin.

“I am very grateful to the Brown and Newsom Administrations for helping to define our three-year plan to terminate the 710 freeway and for negotiating the final amendments to make it happen,’’ Portantino said.

“Generations who have been fighting this freeway can now rest in peace knowing that they made this day happen and that the 710 freeway will never be completed. Many people worked collaboratively to get us to this place, giving moral support for those of us in office and providing the runway to let this 60-year-old plane land.”

For his part, Holden said in a release: “This is a historic moment for the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles, ending this 70-year-old battle. Now is the time for the region to lead the way in implementing transportation solutions that move us past a car-centric approach to reduce pollution and improve health and safety.”

On Tuesday, South Pasadena Mayor Marina Khubesrian issued her own statement, praising the work of both legislators, among other area officials.

“The bills signed by Gov. Newsom are significant legislative landmarks for the proposed 710 extension, putting a final and definitive end to a battle that has defined the community of South Pasadena for nearly 60 years,’’ Khubesrian said.

“I would like to thank our community activists who fought against the 710 extension for so many years. In addition, I would like to thank our regional allies in the Connected Cities and Communities coalition, which developed the ‘Beyond the 710’ campaign in 2015. Thank you as well to our regional and state partners for their leadership, including Metro (County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was instrumental), the Southern California Association of Governments, and Caltrans.

“I would also like to thank Sen. Anthony Portantino for his 20-plus-year advocacy efforts, and Assemblyman Chris Holden for leading a shift in thinking about this project at the regional and state level. Both of our representatives listened to residents and worked hard to ensure that the will of the community was reflected in this legislation.’’

As Portantino’s release pointed out, “Timing became a critical conclusion because in the final week of the legislative session, amendments were proposed that would dramatically interfere with the City of Pasadena’s plans to develop the left-over freeway stubs.’’

“Senator Portantino subsequently negotiated with Caltrans language that solved the Pasadena issue and inserted these amendments into SB7, making it the only complete and comprehensive fix for the 710 corridor on the governor’s desk,’’ Portantino said.

“Not only does SB7 remove the threat of the 710 freeway from ever being built, it helps facilitate solutions and alternatives in the corridor, including Pasadena’s plans to develop the leftover stubs and legislative help for the non-profits and low-income tenants.’’

Another key element of the Portantino bill is that it embraces housing elements and use of the so-called “surplus” houses currently owned by Caltrans and in use as homes along the proposed route — houses that would have been razed had the plan ever gotten the green light.

Portantino’s bill freezes rents on low-income tenants in those houses and allows non-profits and low-income tenants now renting the properties from Caltrans to buy them a below-market prices.

Indeed, in anticipation of the 710 issue finally being resolved, the South Pas City Council on Oct. 2 unanimously approved entering into agreements with three such non-profit organizations to purchase 15 surplus properties along the 710 freeway extension route, under a plan that would turn some of those properties into affordable housing.

The Portantino bill also will help the Pasadena to develop the so-called freeway “stubs” in that city.

“We are extremely grateful to our senator for putting the final nail in the 710 tunnel’s coffin,’’ said activist Claire Bogaard of the  No 710 Action Committee.

Holden’s AB29 was less broad in scope, specifying that State Route 710 is from Route 1 to Route 10, abolishing the freeway tunnel once and for all. The legislation also would have closed loopholes in both Caltrans’ Final Environmental Impact Report and the 2017 Los Angeles Metro motion that drops the tunnel concept for strictly financial reasons.

But some local anti-710 activists were skeptical that the weekend’s event’s will in fact bring final closure to the 710 measure. As recently as last month, when the Senate and Assembly bill passed — setting up Newsom’s expected approval — some still expressed concern that Caltrans was not giving up the ghost of the 710, despite all the “nail in the coffin” talk.

“I’m elated that the tunnel is no longer feasible, but I have other worries,’’ Dr. Bill Sherman of South Pasadena, a longtime opponent of the tunnel proposal, told the Review this week.

Sherman reiterated concerns he expressed last month in a letter to the Review, in which he wrote, “The first (concern) is that the bills do not take effect until January 2024. Why the delay? If the bills are good, they are good now. This is a compromise with Caltrans. Caltrans is not giving up on the tunnel.  These bills give Caltrans four years to do something.

“I do not know what Caltrans has in mind, but I am concerned it involves a high-capacity connection between the 10 and 210.’’

He added this week: “Giving Caltrans four years to think of something to do makes me worried. … It nags at me.’’

Another longtime anti-710 activist, South Pasadena’s Joanne Nuckols, told the Review last month, “Confusion is the right word for the situation. I think we need to pursue this farther. Why do we have to wait till 2024?’’

South Pas Council Member Diana Mahmud was also puzzled by the last-minute machinations in Sacramento that preceded bills’ passage in the Legislature last month. But she said at the time that pragmatic considerations, more so than legislative ones, would more likely put the once-and-for-all kibosh on the 710 issue.

She reiterated those views this week in an interview with the Review.

“I see no appetite to use public funds to construct the tunnel, and I see no appetite to use private funds to construct the tunnel,’’ Mahmud told the Review. “I see no realistic money coming from either the public or the private sector to build the tunnel.’’

She also pointed out that the environmental-approval process would take longer than the end of the 2024 window, unless the project were fast-tracked.

“There is no way … to complete the environmental analysis’’ before 2024, she said.

“Sen. Portantino has worked on this for a long time, and he has said trust me, and I trust him, and he has said it’s dead,’’ Mahmud added.

“When he says it’s dead, I believe it’s dead.’’