City of Downey Officially Opposes Full Metro 605/5 Freeway Widening Impacting Downey Homes
5:31 PM PDT on October 7, 2020
The city of Downey now officially opposes Metro's plan to widen the 605 and 5 Freeways which would include demolishing hundreds of Downey homes.
To briefly recap earlier SBLA coverage, Metro's 605 Freeway Corridor Improvements Project (605CIP) includes widening of the 605 Freeway, as well as three miles of the 5 Freeway through the city of Downey. Nearly all along the 5 in Downey, single-family home backyards and side yards abutt freeway sound walls. In August, Metro announced that the 605CIP would take out 250+ properties in Downey. Though Metro refuses to state which properties will be taken, it is clear that Metro's plan would be to demolish more than 200 homes in Downey.
Yesterday, the city of Downey put out a press release stating that "the I-605 Corridor Improvement Project... maximum or full standard build alternative will potentially impact hundreds of homes in Downey, which the City is opposed to."
There are quite a few caveats to the city's project opposition. Broadly the release touts "minimiz[ing] the number of homes... taken" while seeking "a reasonable... locally preferred alternative that will provide capacity enhancements and improved operations, while minimizing right-of-way impacts."
The press release includes statements from Downey Mayor Blanca Pacheco and Mayor Pro Tem Claudia Frometa:
“The City is supportive of the improvements of the I-5 freeway, which will bring transportation, connectivity and economic benefits to Downey,” said Mayor Blanca Pacheco. “However, we cannot support an alternative that will negatively impact hundreds of homes in our community.”
Mayor Pro Tem Claudia M. Frometa, who is Vice Chair of the I-5 JPA Policy Board, added, “The City will continue to work with local agencies and Metro to make sure the best interest of our residents are met and negative impacts to our community are minimized.”
Frometa's newfound opposition to the full standard build 605CIP is somewhat surprising, as it represents a near 180-degree reversal from a statement she made just last week.
On September 29, Long Beach Mayor and Metro Boardmember Robert Garcia emailed Gateway Cities electeds stating, "I oppose taking people’s homes in order to widen a freeway" and instead proposed 605CIP project funding "be reinvested in the Gateway Cities communities along this corridor... for clean air, active transportation, water delivery and drainage, and roadway improvements."
On September 30, Downey Mayor Pro Tem Frometa responded to Garcia's proposal with a letter to Metro stating, "The do nothing and reallocate the monies approach is not in the best interest of our communities." Frometa's letter repeatedly expressed support for the freeway widening, though with caveats about impacts, "Corridor Cities are very are very supportive of this [605CIP] project and the economic, connectivity, and environmental impacts it will bring to our cities" and "the I5 JPA member cities including Downey... unanimously support and wish to move forward with a [605CIP] project that includes a locally supported alternative that provides operational benefits and capacity enhancements to the Corridor while minimizing negative impacts."
What is somewhat odd is that this sort of letter would come from Mayor Pro Tem Frometa, and not from Mayor Pacheco. Streetsblog emailed questions to Frometa twice and received no response. She did respond to Streetsblog sharing her letter on Twitter, replying "Is appalling and absolutely irresponsible that you continue to share misinformation regarding this project." Frometa, who is not currently facing re-election, may have authored the September letter to keep the heat off of Mayor Pacheco, who is in a two-way race against the strongly anti-freeway-widening Alexandria Contreras.
The Gateway Cities push for Metro to delay the announced environmental review timetable could have been at least partially motivated by elected officials wanting to keep any 605CIP controversies out their re-election politics. Nonetheless, Contreras has campaigned on her clear project opposition as a strong contrast to Pacheco's mildly-caveated project support (see wording above.)
In August, Metro announced four 605CIP alternatives.
Unfortunately, three of the alternatives are essentially identical in terms of right of way impacts. Metro's alternatives 2, 3, and 4 would all add four lanes to the 605 Freeway. The other alternative is the legally required no-build alternative.
Those three build "alternatives" only apply to the main dozen-mile 605 Freeway, the main trunk of the project. Metro has not made clear what "alternatives" are being proposed for Downey's three miles of the 5 Freeway that are included in the 605CIP. An August Metro presentation gives some indication that there are six alternatives/options through Downey, all with large amounts of right-of-way impacts. The least invasive option would fully acquire 242 Downey parcels; the most would take 257 Downey parcels. All the options under consideration would destroy 200+ Downey homes.
Given the city of Downey's statement in opposition to "full standard build alternative will potentially impact hundreds of homes in Downey" and the full-built options being all that Metro has on the table, it appears that Metro is going back to the drawing board and coming up with new alternatives.
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