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710 freeway extension bill passes Assembly

FinanceRoad TransportationBudgets and BudgetingAdam Schiff

One battle in the war over the proposed extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway may soon be over. A bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) to restore South Pasadena’s power to block a surface freeway through town has passed in the Assembly and is awaiting action in the Senate.

South Pasadena, along with Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and other nearby communities, is opposed to an extension of the 710 Freeway from its Alhambra terminus to the Foothill (210) Freeway.

Proponents say the link is needed to speed truck traffic from the Port of Los Angeles to inland transportation hubs. Area residents are concerned about construction disruption, traffic, air pollution and costs for the long-planned but never-funded project. South Pasadena is particularly concerned, as the shortest route connecting the 710 and 210 freeways is a 4.5-mile course through the city.

Cedillo’s measure restores South Pasadena’s right to block construction if the highway were to be built at or above ground level. That right is enjoyed by all cities in the state except South Pasadena, according to Cedillo’s office.

In 1982, during another skirmish over the project, language undermining South Pasadena’s right was added to the state’s Streets and Highways Code, according to South Pasadena Mayor Mike Ten.

Restoring the city’s authority would not kill the 710 Freeway extension, since the likely scenario under consideration by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a tunnel under Alhambra and South Pasadena. An analysis of Cedillo’s bill in the Assembly determined that if it passes, “proponents hope to allay South Pasadena's opposition to the tunnel alternative.”

Ten, who supports Cedillo’s bill, said the measure should not be seen as a way to soften opposition to the tunnel.

“This may have roots in the 710 fight, but it’s more about an individual city’s rights,” Ten said.

But the measure would ensure that MTA’s ongoing feasibility studies fully examine the environmental impacts of a tunnel, he added.

“We don’t want [the study] tainted by saying, ‘We can half-heartedly look at a tunnel, but we know we can always force a surface freeway through,” Ten said.

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Glendale may cut its $7,300-a-month lobbying contract with Washington-based Ferguson Group because of local and federal budget constraints.

Glendale is trying to close an $18-million gap in its 2011-12 budget. Meanwhile, the federal government has a $14-trillion deficit and Congress has placed a moratorium on earmarking funds for specific projects, putting a chill on the appropriations-related work that municipal lobbyists do.

As a result, Glendale is preparing to go it alone for at least a year or so, according to John Takhtalian, assistant to the city manager.

“Based on what’s happening at the federal level, it is not an essential item at this moment,” Takhtalian said.

In budget meetings this week, the city put the contract with Ferguson on its list of “discretionary” expenses, the lowest rung after “essential” and “priority.” The City Council will make the final call on proposed budget cuts in the coming weeks.

Takhtalian said the city is satisfied with Ferguson’s work, which has focused on garnering funds for a planned forensic DNA laboratory in Glendale, the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk and other projects, as well as advocacy related to Glendale Water & Power. But with the federal cupboard bare, there is less to be gained from seeking funds in Washington.

Takhtalian said city officials will take up the task of working with federal agencies and tracking legislation.

“We’ll continue to be active and engaged in federal issues that affect the city,” he said. “We’re just going to have to do it on our own.”

Burbank, dealing with an $8.7-million budget gap, is not looking at closing out its contract with federal lobbyist David Turch, according to city spokesman Keith Sterling.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) was among the members of the House Democratic Caucus to meet with President Obama last week.

Schiff said a key topic was reviving the housing and construction industries, which haven’t recovered much in the economic recovery.

Schiff is a proponent of reviving the Build America Bonds program, which granted state and local agencies a subsidy equal to 35% of interest costs on taxable bonds. The program was part of the 2009 stimulus bill, which agencies used on $180-billion worth of projects before the program expired in December, saving agencies an estimated $20 billion in interest debt.

Reviving the program, though with a 28% subsidy, is in the president’s proposed budget for 2012.

“Where we’re really hurting now is jobs in the construction industry,” Schiff said. “This program gets people back to work.”

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The California Legislature is widely criticized for spinning its wheels, but Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D- Silver Lake) got his own wheels in gear May 31 by riding roughly 20 miles from the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks to his office at the Capitol. Also pedaling on the American River Bike Trail was Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).

The ride came on the last day of National Bike Month. This month Gatto and Chesbro, who both stay in Fair Oaks when the Legislature is in session, plan to take Sacramento’s light rail system to work. In July, they plan to kayak in on the American and Sacramento rivers.

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Crescenta Valley High School student Youra Oh is the runner-up in the congressional art contest sponsored by Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). Her watercolor and pen work, “The Owl Spirit,” will hang in Dreier’s San Dimas office for a year.
 
 

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