The Governor signed two bills Saturday night that virtually everyone agrees will put the final stake in the heart of the proposed 710 North extension through South Pasadena, a threat that has hung over the city and defined its politics for over six decades.
Governor Newsom signed both Sen. Anthony Portantino’s SB 7 and Assemblymember Chris Holden’s AB 29. Both formally remove the section of Route 710 between Alhambra Avenue and California Blvd. from the state’s freeway and express system as of Jan. 1, 2024.
As the bill analysis puts it, the new law “restricts Caltrans from considering a freeway or tunnel to close the I-710 gap between I-10 and I-210 as a feasible alternative in any environmental review.” It also removes any ambiguity left over from LA Metro’s 2017 action dropping the tunnel strictly for financial reasons.
The delay to 2024 is aimed at preserving Caltrans’ authority over the non-freeway transportation improvements called for in the 710 North environmental review.
The bills “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,” South Pasadena Mayor Marina Khubesrian said in a statement. She thanked “our community activists who fought against the 710 extension for so many years.” She also thanked Portantino, Holden, Caltrans, Metro, Supervisor Kathryn Barger (who she said “was instrumental”), the Southern California Association of Governments and “our regional allies in the Connected Cities and Communities coalition, which developed the ‘Beyond the 710’ campaign in 2015.”
Portantino’s bill also includes a section he negotiated allowing Caltrans, prior to 2024, to relinquish to the City of Pasadena the portion of I-710 within its city limits—namely, the so-called stub lands–once the city and state agree on a deal. There is no similar provision for the Alhambra stub.
“It is a new day in Pasadena now that the 710 freeway is history,” said Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, who helped negotiated the legislation.
SB 7 also freezes rent for low income tenants of Caltrans-owned homes in the corridor and guarantees that non-profit organizations renting property in the zone can purchase those properties at prices below market.
“Changing the highway code makes it clear and unequivocal that there is no place for the 710 surface or tunnel route,” said Joanne Nuckols, longtime South Pasadena activist and chair of the city’s Freeway & Transportation Commission. “But our fight is not over yet. We must make sure the projects implemented in the region improve air quality and don’t encourage more people to drive – which is why we fought the freeway extension in the first place.”
“This final legislative outcome is the culmination of over 20 years of dedication the Senator brought to fighting the 710 freeway and to helping stakeholders in the 710 corridor,” Portantino’s office said in a statement. “It follows through on a promise that Senator Portantino made to activists, non-profits, and tenants in the 710 region when he negotiated the end of the 710 tunnel threat in December of 2016.”
“This is a historic moment for the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles ending this 70-year-old battle,” Holden said in his press release. “Assembly Bill 29 is the result of a three-year legislative effort by Assembly member Holden that began with the introduction of AB 287 in 2017 as well as AB 533 in 2018. Numerous discussions with Caltrans, Metro, and most importantly, members of the community, led to the passage of AB 29. The idea for changing the state’s highway code came directly from a South Pasadena resident.”
Over the last couple years, Portantino and Holden have arm wrestled over the primary credit for securing the 710 legislative fix. Newsom’s office confirmed that because the governor signed Portantino’s bill shortly after signing Holden’s, the similar language in SB 7 is what technically became law. There are provisions in Holden’s bill that are not in Portantino’s. “SB 7 is cemented in law as the final and definitive action on the 710 freeway,” the senator’s office emphasized.
The Senator’s press release also alluded to last minute legislative proposals that it said would have “dramatically interfere[d] with the City of Pasadena’s plans to develop the left-over freeway stubs.” Holden’s bill did not have the provision for the early relinquishment of the stub land in Pasadena.
The governor did not issue a signing statement for either bill.
Portantino has been against the freeway throughout his two-decade career, while Holden changed his pro-freeway position in 2017.
But both politicos celebrated the accomplishment, honored the past and looked ahead.
“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,” Portantino’s announcement said. “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.”
“As our state and cities integrate smart growth and transit-oriented development into our evolving transportation infrastructure with an eye towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, this victory against the freeway tunnel represents a critical shift in how we envision our new transportation future,” Holden added. “I look forward to supporting local cities as they move forward with their proposals to improve the corridor and generate jobs. 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.”