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Ron Kaye: A seat at the table of power

August 19, 2012

It was a triumph of citizen activism — the Pasadena City Council's unanimous repudiation last week of plans to extend the long-stalled Long Beach (710) Freeway through town.

Someday, we might look back at what happened Monday night as a historic moment in the battle for Los Angeles and the quality of all our lives.

It was the first test of strength for members of a brand-new community group that sprung to life this summer after word got out that their lovely west Pasadena community was the target of a possible 710 extension. It would mean long-term disruption, destruction of dozens of homes, noise, pollution, etc.

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People I know, such as Dr. Ron Paler and attorney John Shaffer, came together with their neighbors and went to work acquiring facts, getting on the same page, contacting hundreds of neighbors who might never have known what could happen until it was too late to do anything about it.

So began the San Rafael Neighborhoods Assn., which in just a few short weeks, got the Pasadena City Council to call a special meeting to handle what was expected to be a large crowd.

Monday night, more than 500 people showed up and they all had something to say, but they spoke in one voice: Not in my backyard, or my neighbor's, either. These are not NIMBYs, they are preservationists, ordinary folks fighting for their homes, their neighborhoods, the quality of their lives.

Through four hours of enthusiastic hoots, hollers, jeers and cheers Monday night, there was a lot of tough questioning of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials about their proposals to close the 710 Freeway gap — and, more importantly, about whether the agency was trying to create the appearance of public participation without really engaging the public, the art of political illusion.

For Michelle Smith, the MTA's project manager for the 710 extension, it was a tough crowd to face — unhappy people from Eastside L.A. communities like Highland Park and historic Garavanza, to South Pasadena, Pasadena and La Cañada-Flintridge.

These people came from different communities and backgrounds, but were united in saying that while they want public transit to work, they don't want to see an unneeded highway destroy their neighborhoods just to benefit the trucking industry and bail out the ports, which are facing a lot of tough years ahead with increased competition from the Panama Canal to every port north.

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