By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — A community leadership committee tasked with overseeing plans to improve traffic flow on the Long Beach (710) Freeway through Southeast Los Angeles County is seeking more power to ensure that its input is not diluted by transit officials.
Following a request from Luke Klipp, senior transportation deputy for county Supervisor Janice Hahn, more than 20 members of 710 Freeway task force voted Feb. 17 to include language in the group’s charter that would enable chosen community members to review proposals addressed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors before they are sent to staff for budgeting.
Although the two proposed amendments were not redacted at the I-710 zoom gathering, the vote aims to guarantee that residents and business owners with properties near the freeway have a direct say in combating noise, vehicle emissions and how to pitch plans to improve the quality of life.
“Members have to be able to provide input directly to the [MTA] board not filtered through the task force,” Klipp said, “so the board at best understands the difference of opportunities that there are out there.”
He explained that Hahn, who represents the county’s Fourth District that includes most cities along the 710 south corridor from Long Beach to the Pomona (60) Freeway in East Los Angeles, would rather pick first hand community proposals on how to tackle particle emissions and design green areas to clamp down on festering pollution.
The vote tally resulted with 48% of the task force members approving the amended charter and 48% said they can live with it.
Another 2% stayed out of it arguing they did not have a chance to read the document before the meeting. The remaining 2% was not tabulated.
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice co-director Taylor Thomas complained that she stayed out of the charter’s vote because the draft had arrived to her only a few hours before the vote.
Contradicting Thomas, KeAndra Cylear Dodds, executive officer of equity and race at the MTA, said copies of the task force’s chart were sent to each member two weeks ago.
On the subject of choosing community leadership committee members, Dodds said that as of Feb. 9. she received 31 requests to join the group from Lynwood, Vernon, Lakewood, Signal Hill and unincorporated communities in the county’s first and fourth districts.
“We still believe that the community who lives near the corridor experience the biggest impact of what’s going on around the corridor,” Dodds said. “We still believe that they should be represented in the [community leadership committee].”
She announced that individuals chosen for the committee will be paid $200 each, and $175 to attend task force meeting with payments capped at $5,500.
Before the amendments were embraced, task force members split the charter’s passage vote with low support for its vision and goals.
With four options available, 39% of the voters initially supported the charter, 30% said they could live with it, 19% had concerns and 19% stayed aside.
Witnessing the lack of consensus, Long Beach resident David Hall asked the task force members how a member of the public can bring change to the charter’s content.
“I feel kind of left out,” Hall said. “How can I help or how can I contribute? Only task force members can vote.”
Dodds answered that the best way for him to participate in decision making was to apply for a position at the community leadership committee, and to attend task force meetings and voice his views during time set aside for public comment.
She also suggested he engage in future public workshops on the 710 south corridor.
Legal Aid Foundation attorney Ghirlandi Guidetti pressed task force members to adopt a measure that permits community leadership committee members to read and weigh in on final recommendations made to the MTA board of directors before they are approved.
Michael Cano, executive officer of goods movement and state policy and programming with the MTA, said he likes ideas that spur change and bring solutions from community members to the corridor’s myriad problems.
“I’m not saying [the chart] has to be set in stone,” Cano said. “It’s something where we can have proposals and there can be changes. I’m open to that discussion.”
Also, elections for the coordinating committee took hold, and Sylvia Betancourt was picked to represent the group of environmental advocacy and community organizations.
Cudahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar was nominated and selected to represent the cities and governments group, which encompasses transit and county agencies, Southeast Los Angeles cities, Long Beach and other municipal organizations.
And Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Sharon Weissman won the post to represent the group affiliated with logistics, goods movement, the Union Pacific trains and railroads, and others.
Cano reminded all participants that the 710 task force meetings will soon make room for input from community stakeholders with the goal to craft strategic proposals for the MTA leadership to transport people and goods more efficiently, clean the air and expand green zones.
“We know that there are many needs in the community,” Cano said. “We saw that in previous county data. There are needs for bike roads and there are different needs in that segment. We want to work with the community through the [committee] and make sure better plans will take place.”
To get a better sense of community input, a survey released Feb. 22 throughout the region asks residents what is their vision for the freeway corridor, four areas of concern and to provide improvement goals based on those concerns.
“We recognize that when people select information for us, it can be a combination of vision and goals. What we are trying to do here is to lay the basis for the ideas and specific examples of how we can improve air quality and other issues in the south corridor,” Cano said.