A version of this story originally ran in USC Annenberg's Neon Tommy.
L.A. County's Measure R transportation initiative legitimately set aside $780 million to complete the I-710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena, a state appeals court affirmed this week.
In 2008, voters approved Measure R by a two-thirds margin, raising the county's sales tax by a half-cent to send about $40 billion to transportation projects from the Westside Subway Extension to expansion of the I-405 freeway to the I-710-extension.
The cities of South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge challenged that Measure R had illegally financed the I-710 project since it had not undergone an environmental impact review. A trial court rejected the argument in Oct. 2009. Last week, the court of appeals sided with the trial court, saying Measure R in no way represented approval of any of the dozens of proposed projects for which it earmarked funding.
After 2019, Measure R allows reallocation of the $780 million from a highway project to a transit project (bus, rail, bike, etc.) by at least a two-thirds vote of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board.
The court said California's Environmental Quality Act, which requires environmental reviews of most projects, declares “funding mechanisms that do not make a binding commitment to spend in a particular manner are exempt from the definition of a project.”
A vocal group of South Pasadena residents has opposed completion of the I-710 freeway for decades. Most consider a tunnel under South Pasadena, which lies between Alhambra and Pasadena, to be the most likely option for finishing the freeway. Residents have expressed concerns about the safety of a tunnel and the environmental effects of promoting car usage.
Metro is expected to begin this summer a three-year-long environmental review to determine the costs and problems associated with each of the possible alternatives for the six-mile stretch, including leaving it as-is.
South Pasadena Mayor Mike Ten, who believes the tunnel should be built, said on Friday he wouldn't want to see the latest ruling appealed to the California Supreme Court. The other councilmembers could not be reached for comment late Friday.
The full ruling can be found here.