Caltrans homes in limbo
South Pasadena city manager says he has no interest in joint powers authority.
A home owned by Caltrans at 1199 Pasadena Ave. in Pasadena is vacant. Caltrans bought homes in the area in the 50s to 70s to make way for the 710 Freeway extension into Pasadena. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / February 23, 2011)
A state audit in August blasted the transportation agency for mismanagement of the properties it acquired decades ago as it prepared to extend the Long Beach (710) Freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena. The proposed 710 extension has been mired in controversy, and work has not begun.
The California state auditor, citing failure to collect adequate rents and poor oversight of repair work, called for Caltrans to identify options for shedding the properties.
But Caltrans is not ready to sell. An environmental review is underway to determine the feasibility of building a 4.5-mile tunnel connecting the 710 to the Foothill (210) Freeway, as well as other options for easing congestion in the area. Caltrans officials have said the agency shouldn't sell the properties until it knows for sure it won't need them. The study will be completed in 2014.
In response to the audit, Caltrans brought in a private consultant to analyze three options to improve management of the properties: hire a private management firm, transfer the properties to a local transportation agency or establish a joint powers authority that would include the cities of Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles.
Of the 449 habitable properties, 239 are in Los Angeles, 117 are in Pasadena and 93 are in South Pasadena.
Caltrans spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said the analysis is ongoing.
But South Pasadena and Pasadena officials aren't thrilled about the prospect of managing the homes, particularly those reputed to have a long history of maintenance problems.
“We are absolutely not interested in a JPA [joint powers authority],” South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said. “The only option we're interested is for Caltrans to sell for private ownership.”
Gonzalez said during an exploratory meeting with Caltrans on Oct. 11 the city made it clear its position is that the homes should be sold, with Caltrans tenants getting first shot at ownership and the proceeds from sales helping state and local agencies.
Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck said if Caltrans doesn't move forward with a plan to quickly sell the homes, the city would be willing to get involved.
“I think we would be interested in looking at ways the properties can be maintained in a fashion that is conducive to a neighborhood environment,” Beck said.
Los Angeles Department of Housing Executive Officer Rushmore Cervantes said that Caltrans has not reached out to city officials, but that the city is interested in acquiring properties for the creation of affordable housing.
The audit also recommended that Caltrans consider working with a local transportation agency to manage the properties, but Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said there are no active discussions between the two organizations.
Chris Sutton, an attorney who represents the Caltrans Tenants Assn., said as long as Caltrans is in charge, the tenants will suffer.
“Unless the rents that are paid are used to maintain the properties, any structure — whether it's a private entity or a JPA or to have the tooth fairy do it — will be unable to accomplish anything,” he said.
In the wake of the audit, Caltrans promised to take steps to improve maintenance of the homes and oversight of repair work. Caltrans also plans to begin raising rents in March, in response to the audit's criticism that it lost an estimated $22.5 million in recent years by undercharging tenants.