Northbound 710 Freeway traffic by Pacific Coast Highway bridge in Long Beach. (Photos by Crystal Niebla)
UPDATE (Feb. 28, 6:53 P.M.) : City and county leaders have proposed new amendments the day before a planned vote to expand the 710 Freeway. The new amendments recommend anti-displacement measures and other community benefits, such as neighborhood improvements, improved air quality, and near-zero emission truck use. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia was one of the leaders who recommended the amendment. Statement here.
LOS ANGELES — Displacement, relocation, pollution and community health. These were the main concerns of residents who spoke at the Metro-hosted community meeting to discuss the 710 Freeway expansion project, which focuses on a 19-mile stretch from Long Beach to Los Angeles.
Jose Gonzalez, 24, has lived in Commerce next to the 710 Freeway his entire life. For as long as he can remember, rumors of the expansion and his family’s possible displacement have hung over his head. He said he has never received any official information from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) or the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) — let alone the fact that two project options known as Alternatives 5C and 7 exist.
Alternative 5C would add an auxiliary lane, or passing lane, on both sides of the freeway, costing $6 billion and promising to improve safety and traffic. Alternative 7, at $10 billion, proposes to add a separate 4-lane freight freeway on top of the original I-710.
“Most of my neighbors have never heard of the alternatives,” said Gonzalez, who is a member of his local advisory committee. “…The only time we’re notified is if East Yard [Communities for Environmental Justice] comes to my street and goes door to door to let people know.”
The most recent Metropolitan Transportation Authority meeting, which took place Feb. 14, was hosted by Metro’s Ad Hoc Congestion, Highway and Roads Committee to discuss the project’s alternatives and current progress. The I-710 EIR/EIS bill began in 2008, with several committees meeting in the years since to agree on one proposed alternative, or preferred option for going forward.
Metro has stated that Alternative 5C is the community-preferred choice, but those who spoke at the meeting were overwhelmingly in favor of Alternative 7.
According to a Caltrans environmental evaluation (Page 41), at least 436 people will be displaced by whichever option. Those displaced by the project will be compensated with a portion of the $500 million set aside in the budget for them, but undocumented residents will not be eligible.
“Our local electives have referred to 5C as the lesser of two evils, and our communities deserve better than that,” said Jorge Rivera, program director with LiBRE Long Beach Residents Empowered.
Rivera also stressed the importance of preserving Long Beach’s Multi-Service Center, an organization just half a mile from the I-710 ramp at West Anaheim Street that services the nearly 3,000 homeless individuals in the city.
Ultimately, the choice is up to Caltrans, who own and operate the freeways, but this meeting gave an opportunity for the community to unite and voice opinions. While many agreed that something must be done to decrease congestion, not everyone was aligned on how exactly to do so.
“Reject 5C as this will create diesel truck lanes, not a zero-emissions program, harming [the] community further,” said Laura Cortez, a representative from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
“We have been here since day one,” Cortez said. “We have struggled to be part of this process because we are continually valued as less than, key stakeholders, by Caltrans, even when we have compromised — because we have. We will not give up our homes or our communities.”
Some attendees believed there may be an even better alternative that has not yet been proposed and asked Metro to take a more active role in alerting the community about their plans.
“There is no timeline that can be too long when it comes to the health and well-being of our communities,” Rivera said. “I don’t care that it’s been 15 years; we should go another five years and develop something that’s better for our communities and our people.”
Others voiced concern over healthcare, job opportunities and psychological support for those displaced, especially the homeless, who are at a higher risk.
Metro’s AHCR committee director Jacqueline Dupont-Walker expressed her appreciation for the community’s participation.
“Your strong voice is important for us to hear directly,” Dupont-Walker said. “The community and the greater area has suffered from congestion and poor quality air far too long. We are concerned about environmental justice at the same time that we want to support economic justice, especially in small businesses.”
Dupont-Walker asked the board for a no-displacement option, to be discussed at a later date. She insisted that Metro and the committee will move forward with expanding the I-710, an outdated freeway built around the 1960s. The only decision left is with which alternative.
Both options aim to improve congestion, reduce pollution and update freeway interchanges and on-ramps. They both also have zero-emission incentives for trucks and vehicles and allotted budgets to compensate those displaced by construction.
Janice Hahn, a board member for Metro, insisted that both of these alternatives are designed to improve the lives of those who live near the freeway.
“No longer should our communities suffer cancer so someone in Kansas can get a flat screen TV,” Hahn said. “We have a chance to grow movement…and do whatever we can in a bold way and not add to the pollution and the emission that these corridor cities have had to bear the brunt of.”
The project options will be put to a vote March 1, which is then slated to be completed by 2040.