Wednesday, November 14, 2001
Appeals Court Rejects Challenge to Use of Pasadena’s Redevelopment Funds in 710 Freeway Battle
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A taxpayer challenge to the use of South Pasadena redevelopment money to keep up the long and bitter fight against extending the 710 freeway was rejected yesterday by this district’s Court of Appeal.
It was too late for plaintiffs to argue that loans by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to the anti-710 efforts were illegal, Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer said in an unpublished opinion, since use of such loans was widely publicized and the statute of limitations for challenges has long since expired.
The court also rejected the more basic argument that use of redevelopment “tax increment” to fight the freeway—a use not specifically listed in the 1990s redevelopment plan as a goal or objective—was unlawful. The plaintiffs included no allegations detailing how the funds were spent, Spencer said, so they failed as a matter of law to state a cause of action.
Since the ruling was unpublished, it carries no value as precedent and cannot be cited.
But it represents the latest in a string of court victories for the city of South Pasadena, which has fought the California Department of Transportation and its neighboring cities for several decades over the freeway.
Interstate 710 is better known as the Long Beach Freeway, and runs north from the port of Long Beach, following the Los Angeles River much of the way, intersects with Interstates 405, 105, and 5, and stops in the city of Alhambra just after meeting Interstate 10.
Freeway planners long ago intended the 710 to continue through Alhambra and South Pasadena to link with the 210, giving trucked freight a clear freeway route from the port to the rest of the nation without becoming entangled in the commuter traffic of Los Angeles. Planners consider the extension the final link in Southern California’s freeway network.
But South Pasadena, backed by neighborhood advocates and historic preservationists, have blocked the extension through a series of legal challenges.
Anti-freeway advocates have pointed out that construction would doom hundreds of historic craftsman-style houses along the freeway route, as well as trees close to 100 years old. They have also argued that the freeway would ruin the unique community spirit and neighborhood ambience of South Pasadena.
At issue in the latest suit was the use of about $6 million the South Pasadena Community Redevelopment Agency spent on the city’s behalf to fight the freeway.
Attorney Richard I. Fine, well known for his advocacy on behalf of taxpayers in suits against local governments, sued the city in 1999 on behalf of the trustees of two trusts that do business in the redevelopment area. Under the traditional redevelopment process, each of the plaintiff trusts pays tax increment—the incrementally higher taxes owed due to higher tax base caused by redevelopment improvements—to the CRA instead of to the county.
City officials had acknowledged in newspaper interviews that redevelopment funds for at least a decade had gone toward the fight against the freeway and not to development projects or for low or moderate-income housing in the area.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Michael Byrne’s granted the city’s motion for demurrer, holding that the plaintiffs failed to file within the 60-day statute of limitations period set for challenges to use of tax increment funding.
Spencer said that 60-day period does not apply to this case, since there was no challenge to the redevelopment plan, but only to the use of funds under the plan as it existed.
Still, she said, the suit must be rejected since no case was made that the tax increment funds were misspent.
“A fundamental misconception maintained consistently by plaintiffs is that the CRA was without power to oppose the proposed extension of the 710 Freeway, in that the extension was not slated to run through the project area and the redevelopment plan did not expressly mention the freeway,” Spencer said.
The freeway is slated to be built near, though not in, the redevelopment area, the justice noted, adding that there would be no question that such monumental construction nearby would have an impact on the project area and the city as a whole.
Since the plaintiffs failed to lay out just how the money to oppose the freeway was spent, it was impossible to gauge the expenditures against the strictures of redevelopment law, Spencer said, and consequently impossible to find that the expenditures were improper.
As for the loans from the CRA, the justice said, a 60-day statute applied and was long expired.
“The monies have already been spent,” Spencer said. “To allow plaintiffs to maintain their current challenge to the validity of these loans would contravene directly the purposes underlying the validation statutes.”
The case is Robert Wagner, Trustee, v. City of South Pasadena, B141649.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company