Pasadena and Caltrans Reach Agreement to Relinquish 710 Freeway Stub to City

One more nail in the freeway expansion project's coffin

Rendering of what 'the Ditch' could look like after it's developed to 'stitch the city back together.'
Rendering of what 'the Ditch' could look like after it's developed to 'stitch the city back together.'

When I worked for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign a decade and a half ago, my boss used to tell me that a proposed freeway project was never really dead; that the best we could do is defund it and make it politically unpalatable to bring back. I learned this lesson the hard way when a New Jersey road project I helped get defunded was presumed “dead,” then was revived and built with funding from the Obama-era American Rescue and Recovery Act.

But if the 710 Freeway “gap” project, which Streetsblog readers voted to dub the “Big Dig” over a decade ago may finally be dead enough that it can’t rise and terrorize residents of Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena. The North 710 Freeway project was slated to spend $6+ billion dollars for tunnels under these cities, until overwhelming opposition led the Metro board to cancel the project back in 2017. 

On Monday night, the Pasadena City Council voted to approve their end of a contract with Caltrans to reclaim a portion of the land that Caltrans had already purchased for extending the 710 Freeway – land located between Union Street and Columbia Street. The California Transportation Commission needs to approve the transfer, but with Caltrans and the city in agreement, that last hurdle could well be little more than a formality.

Despite the rendering created to show the potential for the property, it is now undeveloped land with streets crossing through. Nearby residents refer to the land as either “the ditch” or “the stub.”

Without this land, the 710 gap closure project will be so dead that it can’t be resurrected.

The agreement raises many new questions for Pasadena, prominently: does this help the existing Caltrans renters who have been neglected and jerked around by Caltrans for decades? And what happens to the land the city will take over?

The answer to the first question is that this doesn’t mean much, if anything, for existing Caltrans renters. The staff report mentions that the land deal doesn’t include “parcels with residential and institutional tenants immediately north of California Boulevard” and the Caltrans Tenants Union confirmed to Streetsblog that no existing residents’ houses would be included in the deal. 

As promised by state legislation known as the Roberti Bill passed in the 1970’s, existing tenants will have the right of first refusal to purchase properties from Caltrans. According to the Tenants Union, the city has shown little interest in properties with existing renters and is waiting to see which tenants can purchase their properties before making a plan. None of the recent legislation passed that clarifies how Caltrans will sell these properties applies to the properties in Pasadena. 

As for the future of the property, that remains to be seen. According to Pasadena Now, city officials were clear that this is a first step in the process of ‘stitching the city back together.’ City officials have been open about the city’s desire to use the land to increase the city’s low income housing. Once the deal is finalized, the city has promised a public process to decide the future land use, transportation network, and utility infrastructure network for the land that is now-called the Ditch.

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