It's Time to Envision the Possibilities of Pasadena's Future Without the 710 Ditch

Forum tonight will weigh in on Pasadena’s historic opportunity

Published : Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | 5:42 AM

[Updated] Perhaps the greatest development opportunity in Pasadena’s recent history is about to emerge with the end of the 710 Freeway Extension battle, a 60-year war that pitted San Gabriel Valley cities and neighborhoods against each other for decades.

The approximately quarter-mile wide freeway gully—running north and south from just north of California Boulevard to Walnut Street—beckons with vivid possibilities for reshaping a chunk of Pasadena’s future.

To pull focus on the issues and boundaries of that opportunity, Councilmember Steve Madison will host “Reconnecting Pasadena: Reimagining Pasadena in a Time of No 710 Tunnel,” a community forum at the Pasadena Convention Center Wednesday.

The 7 p.m. event will feature presentations by John Bulinski Caltrans District 7 Director, Tony Harris Executive Vice President at PointC, Laura Cornejo, Pasadena’s Transportation Director; and David Reyes, Director of the Planning and Community Development.

“This was like the thousand-year war. We had a proposal that came out in 1950,” Madison told Pasadena Now Tuesday, “and it really was an antiquated transportation mode that would destroy neighborhoods and, in fact, to some extent, did do that.”

Madison acknowledges the “huge challenge and opportunity” of the coming years. He said he looks forward to the process of having the Caltrans freeway property being returned to the City for its own development, the “final final” step healing the wounds of the 710 battle.

“Caltrans really has an obligation now to return the property to Pasadena, and then we have the challenge and opportunity of what to do with it at that point,” Madison added.

Mayor Tornek sees separate steps ahead.

“There are a whole series of questions that relate to transportation,” said Mayor Terry Tornek Tuesday, “and Caltrans is going to want to make certain goals are rationalized before they relinquish the real estate.”

“So there’s a transportation component,” said Tornek, “and then once that’s resolved and we’ve determined what the transportation network is going to look like, then we can begin to address the development opportunity, in terms of how that real estate can be put to more appropriate use, whether it’s residential or commercial or open space or some combination of all of those things.”

Transportation Director Cornejo sees the moment as “an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine what this corridor could be. We look forward to carrying out an inclusive community participation process that will help inform that vision.”

Cornejo also agreed that the City first needs to complete the transfer of the property with Caltrans.

“Before we engage in any visioning or planning exercise,” she said, “we first have to come to an agreement with Caltrans as to the terms of relinquishing the corridor.”

Cornejo said the City and Caltrans have established a collaborative working group to hammer details of an agreement. She said Pasadena’s DOT and Planning Department will share with the public what the steps to relinquishment are, and what work needs to be carried out as part of this process.

For Madison, the 710 opportunity is a continuation of what he calls “Pasadena’s renaissance.”

As Madison seeis it, “over the last 10, 15 years, what we’ve been able to do is pretty extraordinary. You look at some of our iconic, sacred institutions in Pasadena that were created about a hundred years ago. We’ve actually now re-invested and extended those out for the next hundred years.”

Madison lists the City Hall, whose renovation was a $120 million project and the Rose Bowl’s $130 million overhaul, as well as the $152 Convention Center project.

“We’ve reinvested in all those things,” he continued. “So they’re going to be around and be state of the art for the next hundred years.”

Clearly, Madison himself has been reimagining restoration of the stub, the ditch, the gully (as it has been variously called).

The most exciting and important part “is refilling the ditch and bringing it back up to grade. And then having some combination of park or open space, perhaps like an Esplanade, like the great streets of other great cities, if you think of Commonwealth Avenue in Boston for example, and then around that, the development of probably single-family homes, some multi-family residences, perhaps even some mixed-use, something like that.”

“It’s really exciting,” Madison said.

West Pasadena Residents Association Board Member Mic Hanson agrees.

“It’s exciting that we have come to this juncture,” she said, “and we really look forward to this benefiting our city.”

For activist Claire Bogaard, a top issue is making sure that any homes that were owned by Caltrans along the former 710 route, and which are now being sold to the public, are sale-worthy.

“My biggest concern is that the houses that are sold are in a condition that is fair to the people who buy them,” Bogaard explained. “They have to have good plumbing, and they have to have good heating, and they have to have roofs that don’t leak. If they need a paint job, I can live with that. But I want those houses to be safe and functioning well when they’re turned over.”

For Bogaard, in terms of development, the “logical thing” would be a single-family, residential neighborhood near Sequoyah School, and then perhaps multi-family housing, continuing north.

Office buildings could be built near Walnut, “since they’re all already office buildings in that area,” she said.

But Bogaard also emphasized the theme of the forum, saying, “We’re not saying this is what should be built. We’re saying this is an idea. What are your ideas?”

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