Holden: Relax, 710 Is Dead … Really

Assemblyman Chris Holden sits down with the Review in his office in Pasadena, Nov. 13. Photo by Skye Hannah

The long-pending proposal to build a 710 freeway extension, which would have put a tunnel through South Pasadena, was declared dead in mid-October — killed by a combination of legislative bills authored by Assemblyman Chris Holden and Sen. Anthony Portantino. Or was it?

At the time, some longtime South Pas activists opposed to the plan still expressed skepticism of the 710’s demise. They feared that the 2024 date to officially remove the road from the state’s highway grid still left Caltrans some wiggle room to pull something from up its sleeve.

To those skeptics, Holden this week offered some reassurances.

“For all intent and purposes there’s no there there,’’ Holden said during a sit-down with the Review on Wednesday at his Pasadena district office.

“’I’m sure there are those in Caltrans who’d love to see a freeway or a tunnel, but that ship has sailed. I think if I were living in South Pasadena, I would feel pretty confident that there’s not going to be a freeway, surface or tunnel, ever built in our lifetime.’’

Back on Oct. 12, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Holden’s Assembly Bill 29 as well as Portantino’s Senate Bill 7. Both measures take the proposed extension off the state highway map, but Portantino’s measure is wider in scope, also incorporating housing and other development matters along the route of the proposed project.

Portantino’s bill incorporated the language of Holden’s regarding removal of land from the highway grid. But, as Holden explained it, because of those added complexities of the Portantino measure — embracing, among other elements, the future use of houses currently owned by Caltrans and their sale to nonprofits and renters — the official kill date of the 710 had to be moved from 2020 to 2024.

Portantino’s bill also freezes rents on low-income tenants in those houses and allows non-profits and low-income tenants now renting the properties from Caltrans to buy them a below-market prices.

“The (new) code is to make sure that nothing happens down the road,’’ Holden told the Review. “They (Caltrans) have now gotten out of the home ownership or rental business … and they’re in the process of turning them back (into private hands). At some point (for) the state to change their mind (and say), ‘Let’s go buy them back up again,’ …. I just don’t see that happened. That project is dead.’’

What’s more, Holden said, there is no appetite in either the private or public sectors to spend the billions of dollars it would cost to build extension.

“The resources to build it is probably the other factor, because the cost of building that project (was unfeasible),’’ said Holden — whose own transportation priorities focus on mass transit matters, such as extending the Gold Line to Montclair and, eventually, to Ontario Airport.

“AB29 (Holden’s bill) was to put a final nail in the coffin. SB7 (Portantino’s measure) was taking all the other issues that are ancillary to that and try to impress those issues about how to give some relief to nonprofits and to renters and the like.’’

The union of the two bills came about after some last-minute Sacramento shuffling as the previous legislative session was ending.

In particular, Holden said, “What they (Caltrans) were basically saying was that because of the language that deals with relinquishment (of Caltrans land), and because the state still needed to negotiate those projects, because of lawsuits that are existing … meant that the timeline needed to extend.’’

As far as the extra four years giving Caltrans a chance to still ram a tunnel through South Pas, Holden said, “I think that the practical nature of the decisions that have been made have basically killed the freeway.’’

He said he hopes that comes as reassurance to anti-710 activists such as Dr. Bill Sherman of South Pas, who told the Review back in October, “I’m elated that the tunnel is no longer feasible, but I have other worries.’’

“The first (concern) is that the bills do not take effect until January 2024. Why the delay? If the bills are good, they are good now,’’ Sherman said.