The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has done its job in reaching out to the community regarding its plan to extend State Route 710, according to Metro's Executive Director of Highway Project Doug Failing.
“What you have seen on this project is just an unparalleled amount of outreach,” Failing said, speaking on KPCC's Airtalk Tuesday morning. “In the old days we’d have one scoping meeting and there would no more until we released the environmental documents."
Failing praised Metro for holding extensive community meetings through the Spring of 2011, and for establishing Community Liaison Councils (CLC) to bridge the gap between the public and the transportation authority.
His statements might come as a surprise to many of the community members who packed the CLC meeting at Monday evening. The majority who came to protest any potential extensions to the SR-710 said they knew nothing about the issue until only a few days ago.
“We’re sort of taken aback and shocked,” Tina Gulotta-Miller, of the Garvanza Improvement Association, said before the meeting. “This wasn’t explained to us until June this year.”
Gulotta-Miller said that the information was first revealed to her at a CLC Meeting held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in June.
“To have unveiled this information in Pasadena as opposed to our community is very disruptive, very disturbing,” Gulotta-Miller said. “Even though I’m signed up on their Facebook page, there was nothing there until last month. We had to scramble.”
Janet Dodson, a member of the said that that a group of concerned community members spent the last five days distributing fliers about Monday's meeting.
“Metro could have had that kind of outreach anytime they wanted to. They do not want people there,” Dodson said. “They’ve come for Highland Park. They’re sick to death of battling people from Pasadena and South Pasadena and they think we won’t pay attention.”
During the presentation, Peter Bedard, a local neighborhood watch captain, said that no one he handed a flier to was informed about the potential SR-710 extensions through Highland Park and Garvanza.
“Not one person I handed a flier to knew anything about this information,” Bedard said. “Whoever the community liaisons are on this, they are failing miserably.”
The audience applauded in agreement. Someone shouted for the liaisons to stand up.
There was a beat, but no one from the community liaison council introduced themselves.
A technical engineer was not in attendance at the presentation. Many questioned why Metro had not sent someone who could explain the true impact that the options would have on their community.
Metro Spokesperson Mary McCormick said the meeting was intended to just be an update of the alternative processes being studied.
“We’re still looking at alternatives, we have to go through all reports,” McCormick said multiple times throughout the night. “Nothing has been decided yet.”
Field representatives for Councilmember Huizar and Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo were also asked to provide more information to the community.
“Can you please make sure that the councilmember puts links to all this information on his website? I spent the better part of an hour looking for what Metro was putting out there,” Gloria Castro, a local attorney, said. "It was very difficult for me to find and whatever I could find did not give me the information I needed.”
Antonio Buenrostro said he felt that the majority of Spanish speaking community members were not being involved in the process.
“A large portion of the community is Spanish. I bet you anything they don’t know about this project going on. I learned about this because I was at the gas station putting gas in my truck there was a post on the gas pump read about it," he said. "It was in English. I speak Spanish and English so I knew, but what about for the people who only speak Spanish? If we outreach to those folks, we can create more of a movement for or against this.”
Sergio Gomez feared the project might have a negative impact on the historic community.
“My house was built in 1901. It’s a craftsman home ... is [this project] going to affect my house?” Gomez said. “People love the community for what it is, it’s an old town community. You can say, 'yeah it’s great to have a freeway,' but what about the families, what about the kids?”
Sam Burgess, who said he'd been following this issue for 40 years, urged the audience to not stand by and to take action by involving their elected officials in these meetings.
“What we do up here will have a profound effect everywhere in the region,” Burgess said to the audience. “It doesn’t matter what alternative is selected, the community of El Sereno as we now know it will cease to exist if this goes through.”
Others were upset by their perceived motives behind the freeway. Charles Miller, who distributed anti-710 fliers before the meeting, said that the project is being pushed forward to benefit shipping companies.
“The Panama Canal is being widened right now. It’s going to be open sometime in 2015, and all international shippers down there expect to lose up to 25-percent freight traffic to LA because [of that]. They want to solve that problem [with the 710], but to do that on our backs is unfair, unreasonable."
Speaking on Airtalk, Failing said he's "never seen the 710 as a freight corridor."
He added that he was confident that, once an Environmental Impact Report was completed, it would show that freeway and highway options helped to reduce traffic and air quality.