Published : Wednesday, September 25, 2019 | 5:28 AM
[Updated] Monday night’s City Council meeting offered hints at the pathway Caltrans could follow towards relinquishing the 710 Freeway extension stub property back to Pasadena. Neither the Council nor Caltrans offered details on what a new configuration could look like.
But the evolving relationship with Caltrans as a partner rather than adversary flings open the door to reimagining and developing the “ditch” north of California Boulevard that was once going to be a freeway, say local leaders.
There is an overriding caveat, they say. The use of the stub must remain consistent with the 710 Freeway extension’s original mission.
“For any developments that get approved,” Caltrans District 7 Director John Bulinski told the Council, “we need to ensure that the purpose and need of the project remain intact, for legal purposes and to ensure the integrity of the environmental process.”
The 710 Freeway extension was conceived to move traffic through the San Gabriel Valley, Bulinski explained, and the property still needs to do that.
The discussion is now morphing into “how?”
According to David Grannis, a partner in Point C, a consulting firm working with Caltrans, the idea is to find ways to reconnect that path.
“How does that work?,” he asked rhetorically about possible plans, in an interview with Pasadena Now Tuesday. “Does it still serve the system? Can you still get there? Does it back up?”
Once those scenarios are developed, said Grannis, then the basic civil engineering would begin, “looking for plans and ideas that make that particular connection, and are feasible.”
According to Grannis, one likely focal point might be Walnut Street near the 210 and the 134 interchange.
“That’s what we’re focused on in terms of that connection there,” he said. “All those connections, and there’s a whole bunch of them. There’s one that comes off at Colorado Boulevard. There’s one at Orange Grove, there’s one that goes all the way around and connects to Del Mar and California, going in the southern direction. Similarly in the northern direction, there’s an onramp just past California and another one just past Del Mar.”
Grannis explained that the key to progress will be determining what is actually needed to create access to the regional transportation system and then, “What’s actually needed to knit the neighborhoods back together.”
“It’s a balancing act between both,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to be looking at.”
Mayor Terry Tornek said Monday that while the entire process would take 15-20 years to complete, he believes the initial planning process could rush through a swifter timeline.
Tornek added that the public could begin to see plans and ideas soon.
“We won’t keep it a secret,” he said. “It just seemed too premature to start publicizing this and talking about it in a very public way, until the governor signs the bills.”
“Months, not years,” he said Tuesday. “It should not take that long, particularly given that we’ve tried to establish a cooperative process with Caltrans.”
Tornek explained that the 15-year time frame he mentioned Monday had to do with determining the traffic and circulation solutions, putting them in place, determining the legal ramifications and how to gain control of the real estate.
Then, he continued, “Putting that into place, and then selling the land to private developers where appropriate, and maintaining public ownership of other land, and then giving the private developers the time to get their projects approved and built.”
Tornek also noted that “there will be a series of alternatives and there’ll be lots of discussion, the way we do things in Pasadena, there’ll be a lot of discussion before we reach any definitive conclusions.”
Tornek also emphasized that anything that happens with regard to the site, must be approved by Caltrans.
“It’s not a strictly local decision,” he said.
Councilmember Andy Wilson also took a long look at what the return of the land to Pasadena could represent.
“We will have opportunities to build housing,” he said Tuesday, “which is obviously what we’re all looking for hopefully — of course being affordable, and clearly, it’s an opportunity to mix in some open space.”
The new relinquishment would pull in a host of opportunities to a wide range of community players, anticipating what the new “neighborhood” could offer.
Said Transportation Commission’s Blair Miller, “The Complete Streets Coalition is very excited about some of the transportation projects that have been proposed by the City of Pasadena that would promote active transportation alternatives for traffic reduction. And there, there have been some really great projects that have been proposed, but they haven’t yet been taken up by Metro.
Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman echoed Miller’s enthusiasm, saying, “I’m actually surprised and pleasantly shocked that we’ve reached into a new point here of cooperation. Pasadena Heritage is heavily focused on the corridor, and the historic houses, and getting those back into private hands and fixed and restored. But the stub is just a scar on the land, and has been for decades and decades. So this is exciting.”