710 fwy

Metro asked cities to assign planning commissioners or staffers to an advisory committee, a request that Councilman Donald Voss said was ¿cheeky.¿ (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Elected officials from La Cañada Flintridge and two other cities are sitting on an advisory committee for the study of the so-called 710 Freeway gap, despite an initial request from county transportation officials that political leaders not play a role.

City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso represented the city at a July 20 Stakeholder Outreach Advisory Committee meeting, organized by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency. In setting up the group, Metro in May asked cities to assign planning commissioners or staffers to the role, a request that Councilman Donald Voss said was “cheeky.”

Olhasso, who is an alternate to the committee behind Voss, said the council wanted to be as close to the decision-making process as possible.

“Not that a planning commissioner isn't perfectly capable, but the council has been so involved in this issue that we were adamant that one of us would be there and could speak to our position,” she said.

The city has long opposed a freeway or tunnel connecting the Long Beach (710) Freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway, one of the alternatives Caltrans and Metro are studying. The city is concerned that an increase in truck traffic will generate noise, pollution and pressure on La Cañada streets.

Despite Metro's request, several cities appointed council members to the committee, Olhasso said.

At the July 20 meeting, Olhasso said she was joined by the mayor of Sierra Madre and a councilman from Temple City.

“At the meeting I attended there was no comment, so I assume [Metro has] come to accept it,” Olhasso said. “So I think we set a precedent, and others followed suit.”

Metro spokesperson Lynda Bybee said the request that cities send planning commissioners was simply an attempt at building the knowledge base in the outreach committee, and that having elected officials participate hasn't presented any problems.

“It wasn't anything too mysterious. We thought planning commissioners who are familiar with land-use issues would be particularly well-suited to the discussions,” she said. “We welcomed [elected officials] to the committee.... It's functioning just fine.”

Olhasso said Metro's outreach efforts appear to be “one-way routes.”

“This Stakeholder Outreach Advisory Committee — it's for Metro to get information to citizens, not necessarily citizens to provide input and reaction, and that's what's frustrating,” she said.

Officials in La Cañada and neighboring cities, including South Pasadena, have said they believe Metro and Caltrans want to build a 4.5-mile tunnel connecting the two freeways. They think a tunnel project would prove costly and damaging to the quality of life in the area.

Other cities, including Alhambra, hope to see the extension built, and argue the long-planned connector is an important route for trucks from the Port of Los Angeles to reach inland transportation hubs.

Caltrans and Metro officials say they are considering a range of alternatives, from the tunnel to improvements in mass transit and street traffic that would ease congestion in the area stretching from the San Gabriel Valley to East Los Angeles and Glendale.

Victor Gonzalez, Metro's project manager for the ongoing environmental study, said the committee is tentatively scheduled to reconvene on Aug. 30 to review a pared-down list of alternatives.