Dear Caltrans Director Laurie Berman:

On behalf of the NO 710 Action Committee, we are writing to ask for your immediate help. We write as representatives of the tenants of Caltrans-owned houses and the neighbors, who live in or near the corridor of the now-canceled State Route 710 Freeway — in Pasadena, South Pasadena and El Sereno (Los Angeles).

A Little Background

As we believe you know, Caltrans purchased the majority of the 710 properties in Pasadena, South Pasadena and El Sereno during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.  Most of the properties purchased were single-family residences in thriving and healthy neighborhoods. Houses purchased ranged from small bungalows and Victorian cottages to mansion-sized homes. There are several apartment complexes, and a number of properties are now used by nonprofit charitable organizations. Scattered about are a few vacant lots.

Large numbers of the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or have been determined eligible for the National Register and/or the California Register. Today, most of these Caltrans-owned houses are adjacent to established and highly desirable neighborhoods in Pasadena, South Pasadena and El Sereno.

Even Caltrans does not know exactly how many houses and properties its owns.  We generally refer to 500 Caltrans properties and believe that there are at least 460 houses along the corridor of the now-canceled 710 Freeway extension. Caltrans has indicated that all of these houses and properties will be sold, but progress on this plan is almost non-existent.

The Current Situation

In recent years, Caltrans has reduced its care and maintenance of all of these properties. Gradually, more and more houses became vacant and subject to vandalism and fell into serious disrepair. In Pasadena alone, we know that 25 percent of the Caltrans-owned houses are vacant.  There are a number of long-term residents and their families who have lived in their houses for decades. Many have taken on the responsibilities and expenses of upkeep and repairs themselves.  These Caltrans renters hope to be able to purchase their houses — either in the affordable price range (if they qualify) or at market rate. These tenants look upon these houses as their “homes” and feel and are part of the nearby neighborhoods.

The Challenges

Most of these houses are in poor or deplorable condition — due to the lack of maintenance on the part of Caltrans. As mentioned above, many have been vacant for years.  Most properties need new plumbing and new gas and electrical systems. Most, if not all, of the structures will need to be seismically upgraded. Foundations will need attention and may need to be rebuilt. Many will need new roofs and all will need to be treated for termites and other pests. Most properties will need to be painted and to have some minimal landscaping work.

Tenants or anyone planning to purchase a Caltrans house will need financing, which will be very difficult, if not impossible, to find with these houses not meeting code and in such poor condition. Buyers in the affordable ranges will have their own set of challenges.

Caltrans is Failing to Protect  Current Tenants

Caltrans continues to raise rents and is forcing tenants out —  sometimes by refusing to accept rent payments — and then leaving the property vacant and subject to vandalism, etc. The tragic part is that many of these tenants can no longer find affordable housing in the area, are forced to leave the area, or live in their cars and/or become homeless. After everything that the current tenants have suffered through the years, they do not deserve this treatment. Instead, Caltrans should immediately freeze the rents. It is widely believed that Caltrans is trying to ”empty” the 710 Corridor so that it might sell all the properties at market rate. These practices are cruel and unfair and must end immediately.

Our State’s Critical Housing Shortage

These days, California newspapers report every day on the worst housing shortage — market-rate, workforce, moderate and low income — in the history of our State. A recent article reports on a Riverside County family that is moving to Idaho to achieve its share of the American Dream of home ownership. The husband was quoted: “It is not affordable to own a house anymore!” The article concludes that the family is: “among thousands who are being priced out of the market due to the limited number of homes for sale and the relentlessly rising home prices.”

With over 450 houses already planned for sale, which are suited to various levels of housing needs, Caltrans should help address this critical housing shortage by prioritizing the sales process of its real estate in the former 710 Corridor.

In Conclusion

We strongly urge that Caltrans arrange to meet with the mayors and their housing officials in the three communities — Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles — and to work in cooperation with them to develop a plan for the sale of the Caltrans properties.

Here are a few ideas:

– The cities and Caltrans could identify and retain contractors to bring the houses up to code

– Caltrans should provide funds for the cities to oversee the work on the properties

– The cities could recommend several local real estate companies to assist with the timely sale of the properties

– CalHFA  should be approached for help with the affordable sales

– Local experienced nonprofit housing organizations could assist with the affordable sales

– Caltrans must comply with the Roberti Bill, created to protect the tenants and their neighborhoods

– Caltrans should consider selling properties to the nonprofits along the corridor at the price that Caltrans originally paid for the property

– Vacant land should be zoned for affordable housing — when possible

These are difficult times for the Caltrans tenants, the adjacent neighborhoods and the cities. We look to you for your strong leadership to help us. We all need to see the 500 properties sold in a fair and timely way — and as soon as possible.

Thank you for this opportunity to bring these important issues to your attention. n

Claire W. Bogaard and Janice Soohoo are members of the No 710 Action Committee.