‘The Freeway is Dead’ | State Senator Anthony Portantino

State Senator Anthony Portantino wants to stick a fork in notion of a 710 Freeway tunnel extension

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com | State Senator Anthony Portantino, whose 25th District represents South Pasadena, wants to stick a fork in the notion of a proposed 710 Freeway extension. He is a frequent visitor to the city, including this year’s opening ceremonies for Little League Baseball and Softball, above, when he received a hat from league officials

Anthony Portantino is aware of the chatter that the proposed 710 Freeway tunnel extension could be resurrected, but he wants to put all concerns to rest.

“The freeway is dead,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s not going to happen.”

Portantino, who represents South Pasadena in the 25th State Senate District, has long been an opponent of the controversial project that ends at Valley Boulevard just outside the Alhambra city limits and would go under parts of El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena and end at the 210/134 interchange if proponents ever got their way.

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In 2017, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted on a measure that recommends an alternative approach to the region’s transportation needs other than building the SR 710 tunnel.  Metro adopted the Transportation Systems Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM), one of five preferred alternatives from Metro/Caltrans. The plan calls for traffic signal upgrades and synchronization, street and intersection improvements, bus transit enhancement, while promoting commuter rideshare.

Portantino says MTA’s action sticks a fork in the threat of the 710 tunnel and clears the way for the homes to be sold. About 50 years ago, Caltrans purchased homes along the 710 corridor to pave the way for construction of the freeway.  Caltrans is now selling the homes.

Portantino appreciates the activists who raise issue that the fight is not yet over, noting, “They should keep doing what they are doing. It’s certainly righteous for them to keep one eye open on the situation, but as long as I’m there, it’s not going to happen.”

Freeway fighters have opposed the 710 Freeway extension for decades in a spirited debate. Portantino has long been in the trenches defending South Pasadena’s position of initially not wanting a surface route and now one that would take the freeway underground for approximately five miles.

“From the beginning, I said we would kill it administratively, then appropriately down the road we would do some legislation, but the only thing legislation does now is get everybody all inflamed,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, the freeway is dead. At some appropriate time, to be sensitive to all the parties, a year or two from now, we’ll do something more legislatively, but no one out there has to lose one minute of sleep. The preferred alternative is not the tunnel. There are no resources. We’re selling the houses in the corridor of the proposed freeway (surface) route. We’re going to sell the rest of the properties.

Last October, Governor Brown signed SB 400, a bill introduced by Portantino, which requires Caltrans to freeze the rent of its tenants until January 1, 2020 who participate in the “Affordable Rent Program.”

“I would like to thank Governor Brown for signing this important district bill,” Portantino said in a statement. “SB 400 will provide long-standing tenants financial relief and the opportunity to purchase their homes at an affordable price.  Though I’m disappointed that we could not capture every tenant in this bill with a rent freeze, I am pleased that those in the most need of help received it.”

“When I heard concerns from renters in the corridor that rising rents may force them to move just as the prospect of selling the homes was approaching, I wrote legislation to give these tenants certainty and relief,” explained Portantino. “This bill will help provide tenants assurance as well as relieve the fear that homeownership will fall out of their grasps. Tenants are so close to becoming homeowners after decades of renting and I am proud to move a measure that allows them access to one of our many American dreams.”

With bipartisan support, SB 400 was passed by the legislature. The bill was supported by the mayors in South Pasadena, Los Angeles and Pasadena.