The city of San Marino is considering returning $32 million in grants earmarked for street improvements and awarded by Metro as alternatives to extending the 710 Freeway after many residents said the city should not be hoodwinked into projects which would bring in outsiders and degrade their quality of life.
In an abrupt about-face, hundreds of residents attending two back-to-back meetings this month said San Marino should give back the money and forego the so-called traffic solutions proposed by city staff and Metro last year.
These projects include adding left- and right-turn lanes to Huntington Drive and synchronizing traffic signals at 11 intersections along the east-west thoroughfare and seven on north-south arterial San Gabriel Boulevard.
Rejecting grants being considered
At a community meeting Tuesday aimed at asking residents which projects they would accept, many instead asked city leaders to reject the Metro grants. City officials who spoke at the San Marino Center meeting attended by 150 people said that option is very much in play.
“That may be where we go,” City Manager Marcella Marlowe told the restless crowd. “If the answer is no, we don’t have to accept the money.”
In December, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board awarded seven cities and the county of Los Angeles $515 million in funding for 34 projects submitted by the cities within the 4.5-mile 710 Freeway gap between the 10 and 210 freeways. These included removal of the 710 stub at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, construction of a train overpass at California Boulevard in Pasadena and three parking structures in Monterey Park.
The list of “Round 1” projects included five submitted by the city of San Marino totaling $32 million. Besides linking traffic lights to control speed and flow, the bulk of the city’s award would go to adding turn lanes to Huntington Drive to “improve traffic circulation (and) reduce congestion and enhance safety” according to a Metro report.
Also with the money, between Virginia Road and Sunnyslope Drive, the city wanted to add an additional eastbound lane on Huntington to increase capacity.
Resident opposition to projects
San Marino Tribune
At an April 29 meeting called by a resident group, 120 people attended. About 80 raised their hands when asked if the city should give back the money and do nothing. Calculations by resident Dr. Raymond Quan said improvements would increase average speeds on Huntington Drive from 48 mph to 53 mph and add more cars.
“You would be turning Huntington Drive into a freeway,” said Dr. Ghassan Roumani, a retired urologist and founder of the group Citizens For a Safe San Marino. Echoing others at Tuesday’s meeting, Roumani said during an interview the five city projects adheres to Metro’s goal of bringing more traffic from the terminus of the 710 in El Sereno and Alhambra into San Marino.
“I think we should not accept any of the Metro funding. All of that money is for increasing traffic in San Marino,” said Richard Patlan, a resident who asked the city at the Tuesday meeting to return the dollars. “We don’t want to do any of it.”
The city seemed to back away from its five projects approved by Metro in December, more than a year after the board voted to kill the freeway extension. In November, Caltrans closed out the environmental review, rejecting a freeway extension and instead, opting for transportation system management and traffic demand solutions.
The decision ended nearly 60 years of debates, lawsuits and animosity between pro and con freeway cities and created a spirit of cooperation on local traffic solutions among cities historically divided for more than a half-century.
Ghost of 710 fight
But some at the meeting opened old wounds. Alhambra and San Marino fought for the freeway extension/tunnel and lost. South Pasadena and later Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge opposed the freeway extension, even as a tunnel, and won the battle.
“Why do we have to take a bullet because Alhambra could not finish the 710?” asked San Marino resident Andrew Ko.
On Tuesday, Alfred Boegh, chairman of the city’s Public Safety Commission, tried to appease the crowd, saying nothing has been decided.
“Our city submitted proposals as place holders,” Boegh said. “We can accept that money for each of the individual projects, or we can reject them individually or in total.”
No new projects submitted
Councilman Steven Talt, who took questions Tuesday night, acknowledged most residents have rejected the city staff projects. He had received an email from Metro hours before the meeting, saying the city could start from a clean slate as long as the new projects meet Metro’s criteria of reducing congestion and enhancing safety, he said.
“I know you came out tonight to say those five projects are horrible, and I acknowledge that,” Talt said. He proposed projects that would add drop-off lanes from Huntington Drive into school sites. The idea was supported by former councilman Eugene Sun.
“We don’t plan on listening to Metro. San Marino will make up its own mind,” he told the crowd.
Metro is collecting “Round 2” projects scheduled to go before the Metro board in June or July, Brian Haas, Metro spokesman said in an emailed response. All projects are “required to address capacity and/or operational improvements” but “can include safety components,” Haas wrote.
Talt said the city had not submitted a Round 2 projects list.