By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — The task force assigned to develop a plan for the southern corridor of the Long Beach (710) Freeway has proposed changes to a preliminary statement for its projected visions and goals on infrastructural projects to improve mobility of people and goods along the freeway, with sustainable models based on equity and minimal harm to the environment.
A discussion of more than one hour April 11 among task force members centered on whether the visions and goal addresses concerns of social equity and redresses harm for residents and small businesses near the freeway between Long Beach and the Pomona (60) Freeway interchange in East Los Angeles.
Composed of area and state government representatives, environmental organizations, nonprofit legal groups and experts on transportation, task force members pushed for language that ensures tangible benefits for communities receiving the brunt of carbon emissions and to bring economic and environmental justice for them.
The draft vision statement reads that the I-710 south corridor should encompass “an equitable multimodal shared use transportation system that supports clean air, healthy and sustainable communities, economic resilience and quality jobs; and provides safe, quality mobility options for all residents and users.”
The text compilation gathers verbatim from 425 respondents living or commuting through the area, and from 25 task force members.
Conducted from Feb. 22 to March 30, the survey concluded that improved air quality, travel options, the corridor’s safety, the area’s environment and the freeway’s impact on health are the most important issues to tackle for the task force.
Luke Klipp, senior transportation deputy for county Supervisor Janice Hahn, said the outline “needs to speak of people and goods movement.”
Klipp said he is concerned with language that ensures crafting of proposals by the community leadership committee to be considered for funding by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors.
Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Sharon Weissman chimed in with a proposal to include an approach to blend artwork with new projects attached to the freeway corridor.
For example in Orange County, communities beautify sound walls and entry and exit ramps of freeways with artwork that blends botanic landscaping with clay figures of birds and others, and extend designs onto corridors.
“I’d like to add something that centers on art along the corridor,” Weissman said. “[Currently], art work on the I-710 corridor is not included.”
KeAndra Cylear Dodds, executive officer of equity and race at the MTA, said the statement would be amended.
California Transportation Commission member Joe Lyou said the statement needs guardrails to avoid making it subject to different interpretations when project proposals begin to take shape.
“I’m concerned that different people would have different interpretations of what it all means,” Lyou said. “I think that the goal should be aspirational. We may run into problems about what we mean with all this.”
Benjamin Feldman, special projects deputy for Supervisor Hilda Solis, said equity should translate into positive projects for the afflicted communities.
“Equity is important,” Feldman said. “I’d like to see it redressing harm and I’d like to see it promoting the rights of individuals and reducing harm.”
However, Fernando Gaytan, senior attorney with Earthjustice, warned the task force that it should not lose sight of the impacted communities’ historical lack of justice in place of wordsmithing the visions and goal statement.
“It means repairing past harm, and that something done is not enough. So I want to make sure the meaning of it is high,” Gaytan said.
East Los Angeles resident and task force member Sylvia Betancourt echoed Gaytan’s words.
“Justice is key,” she said. “People in our families know what justice means within the I-710 context,” referring to allegations of cancer deaths caused by toxic emissions from trucks and vehicles.
Others requested editing language to include a commitment to zero emissions cargo trucks, investments on communities such as parks to combat dirty air and how those efforts can be carried in synch with other projects along the freeway corridor.
Klipp suggested that drivers in Southeast Los Angeles may be tempted to hop on the freeway because it’s the only choice they have, and the movement of people and goods should fit a vision “not necessarily tied to the freeway by itself.”
Weissman told her colleagues that the confluence of interests and attention from the federal and state governments to improve transportation from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and the region’s air quality is one “we never had before,” and the task force should make the most out of it.
“I hope we are looking at the creation of jobs, long lasting good payment jobs,” Weissman said. “I want us to keep our eyes on creation of long-term jobs and stable communities supporting other activities that help us create better communities.”
Jeffrey Newman, District 7 coordinator with the California Department of Transportation, said the agency would seek a partnership with the goals of sustainable projects that enhance safety for all stakeholders.
In addition to the MTA’s Board of Directors, Caltrans must approve new projects that aim to modify structures to reduce the effect of pollution and improve transportation without adding traffic lanes.
“One of the important aspects we are doing is [seeking] broad sustainable efforts to continue improving safety and climate action. We want to focus on promoting community based equity,” Newman said.
Theral Golden, a resident from the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association, told the task force that its vision and goal should address the immediate reduction of carbon pollutants in an area with 20% higher death rates than neighborhoods clustered away from the freeway.
“In my community, we think we need to talk about this issue more often,” Golden said. “I don’t think we have discussed it enough.
On a related topic, Here LA co-director Shannon Davis nominated Sinetta Farley from East Rancho Dominguez to occupy one of six vacant seats with the Community Leadership Committee, but the motion failed due to the task force’s lack of quorum.
And Michael Cano, deputy executive officer of good movement and state policy programming with the MTA, confirmed that all collateral projects linked to the defunct proposal to widen freeway lanes were scratched in 2018, after the Environmental Protection Agency cancelled its environmental impact report and study.
MTA’s Highway Program Director Ernesto Chaves said the only area projects that survived were the Shoemaker Bridge replacement, the freeway soundwall and the integrated corridor management due to their separate environmental impact reports.