Lack of Uproar in Long Beach Over the 710 Freeway Expansion—With 400 People Being Displaced—Is Egregious

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Photo by Brian Addison.

This piece entirely altered within the span of two minutes while on my walk to work this morning.

Its original headline was going to directly address Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who happens to sit on the Metro Board and will effectively be a part of whether or not the 710 expansion project goes through. (Don’t worry: if you’re on the west side and suffering from asthma, it’s going to go through so get your inhaler prepped for double-duty.)

It’s original headline was going to basically say that if Garcia votes for the 710 expansion project, it would violate everything he’s stood for as a new urbanist mayor, especially given its impact on the already-marginalized west and north side of Long Beach.

In fact, shortly after getting elected, he directly told me in an interview, “We need to plan our streets for the future. If you think about the past, we’ve built our streets completely centered around the car: ‘What’s best for the car?’ And when you think about the public space owned as a city, almost all of it we have turned over to our cars.”

Its original headline was going to be a direct call-to-action for Garcia: Dear Mayor Garcia, Voting for the 710 Expansion Goes Against Everything You Stand For.

But then it hit me: while it might violate his personal political philosophy about expanding freeways—even the Los Angeles Times‘ editorial board called the project “so 20th Century”—as a Metro Board member, Garcia has no constituency here or elsewhere which opposes the project.

In Long Beach, there has been zero uproar, at least in an organized sense, over expanding the 710. No community groups that oppose the project entirely paired up with the community groups who got their alternative into Metro’s hands. Zip. Zilch.

There were groups fighting against this in Long Beach; that is not what I am saying. These groups aren’t represented from a constituent standpoint in the final vote—and that is egregious.

In fact, Garcia has only two constituencies facing him as a board member:

  • Caltrans and Metro: They support Alternative 5C which, at a cost of $6-Billion-with-a-B, will widen the 710 to 10 lanes and, given they will not be building an elevated Clean Freight Corridor and making it the cheaper option. Caltrans and Metro, in order to make this alternative happen, will have to seize 109 homes and 158 businesses, which will displace 436 people due to its onramp/offramp upgrades.
  • The other option: Alternative 7, an $11-Billion-with-a-B expansion that is based on a proposal five years ago by a variety of social justice groups and is most defined by its proposal for an elevated, 4-lane, regulated Clean Freight Corridor. (It’s unfortunate but groups will tell you this option isn’t an expansion but adding four lanes is precisely that. Even worse? Metro’s alteration of their original proposal will displace even more folks—484 people to be exact—due to its onramp/offramp upgrades, something community groups have been overtly against on all levels.)

And both of these projects? They will disproportionately affect two populations most: poor black and Latino populations. Don’t take my word for it; the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) blatantly says it.

It’s never fun, as a writer, to realize that the uproar you’ve had in your head—”Expanding a freeway? In 2018? With no mass transit incorporated? While displacing actual families and workers?”—is an uproar that, well, has solely been inside your head.

I could sit here and write a snarky piece calling out Garcia as a coward if he votes for the expansion on March 1; I was genuinely looking forward to it, to be honest. But the harshest reality of all is that we, as a community, let labor, trade, and construction powers lead the way on a project that is so ass backwards and devastating that everyone outside of California is laughing at us.

In a short few months, anti-housing folks developed a mob angry enough that it actually altered our City’s Land Use Element—yet not a single angry mob has said, “400 people losing their homes so more cars and trucks can drive through? That’s wrong.”

It’s wrong. There’s really no other way of putting it. And don’t tell me that the port complex which delivers 40% of our nation’s goods can’t be innovative in figuring out how to better transport goods. Don’t tell me that the most economically and culturally powerful state in the nation can’t be innovative in figuring out to work with that port complex. Don’t tell me that we need to expand a freeway in 2018.

We can make our light rails better. We can make our buses more efficient. We can make transit the preferred alternative. We can make the 710 safer without expanding it. That won’t be immediately easy or comfortable but we can do it.

And ultimately, Garcia does have one chance: to introduce a motion that at least calls into question some of these concerns—and I hope, without question, he does so because in 30 years, Long Beach and Los Angeles, I can practically guarantee you that we’re going to be looking at a massive, 10-lane monstrosity and asking ourselves, “What the hell did we do?”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.