Just as Los Angeles County transportation officials embark on an environmental study of options for closing the freeway gap between Alhambra and Pasadena, the lobbying group that supports the controversial tunnel option finds itself trying to regain its footing in an uphill public relations battle.
After more than two decades of lobbying for a connection between the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways, Nat Read retired in September and passed leadership of his group, the 710 Freeway Coalition, to Harry Baldwin, a former mayor of San Gabriel who works out of his home.
Paul Talbot, city manager for Monterey Park, said that with Read out of the picture, the 710 Freeway Coalition was essentially starting over.
“Well, we had a relationship with Read Communications for many years,” he said. “Now Harry just took it over, so it's early, but they're trying hard.”
Together with his daughter, Kendall Flint, and her communications firm, Flint Strategies, Baldwin is trying to continue Read's advocacy, but they now face an opposing lobby that in the last year has grown in size, organizing power and fervor.
The No 710 Action Committee, which wants to see the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority summarily shut down any effort to extend the freeway, claims about 60 volunteers, many of whom have a personal real estate and quality-of-life stake in the outcome. They organize, exert political pressure on local elected representatives and make their voices heard at public hearings.
“It's hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours. Everybody is on a committee, and we have meetings,” said committee member Joanne Nuckols.
Add to that the mass of elected officials in Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre, La Cañada Flintridge and Los Angeles who have all issued public statements opposing the 710 Freeway extension. State and federal representatives have also come down against the tunnel proposal.
Nuckols said the No 710 Action Committee doesn't receive financial support from the cities, but their staff members, as well as attorneys at the Natural Resource Defense Council, have provided assistance.
“We're just working on a shoestring and the donations from our people,” she said. “[Passion] is what's in the end is going to win this thing.”
On the pro-tunnel side, Baldwin and Flint have the support of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel, which have all signed one-year, $6,000 contracts with Flint Strategies to lead the 710 Freeway Coalition. San Marino officials will likely vote to come onboard on Feb. 13, according to City Manager John Schaefer.
In the past, Read Communications was receiving roughly $36,000 a year from Alhambra alone, according to Deputy City Manager Jessica Keating.
Alhambra has paid $1.5 million to former city attorney Leland Dolley over the last six years, but that has been for advocacy on a range of transportation issues, which may include the 710 Freeway issue, Keating said.
Flint said the coalition also receives support — be it financial or manpower — from a number of unions, including the Iron Workers Local 433 and 416, Bricklayers Local 4, Electrical Workers Local 11, Boilermakers Local 92 and Plasterers Local 200.
But Hart Keeble, business manager for the Ironworkers Local 416, said the union's support has been limited to putting together mailings and attending meetings. And Jay Rojo, office manager for Boilermakers 92, said the union had provided only a “moral support” donation of $120 a year to the coalition for the last 15 years — or a total $1,800.
Representatives for the other unions could not be reached for comment.
At the same time, Baldwin said that because he's working out of his home — and Flint from her business — the 710 Freeway Coalition has very little overhead. Support funds are used to put together monthly newsletters and ensure that the coalition has representatives at MTA open houses, informational meetings and board meetings when the project is on the agenda.
Besides, Flint said, the purpose of the new coalition wasn't to advocate for any specific outcome, but simply to complete the MTA environmental review process, which is evaluating five options for alleviating traffic in the area, including the freeway tunnel.
“Let's at least let [the EIR] finish the process,” Flint said. “This initiative is only to have the conversation.”
Baldwin, however, said the group supports the tunnel option “because we feel that's the one thing that addresses the transportation needs not only in our area, but all of Southern California.”
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