The year is 2044. The hoverboard of “Back to the Future” fame has finally been invented. The Internet is now directly connected to our brains. The Earth is 3 degrees Celsius warmer. The world’s population is 9 billion. And Bill Bogaard is still mayor of Pasadena.
Kidding aside, what will Pasadena be like 30 years from now? Looking back that many years, Pasadena was quite different from today. In 1984, this reporter wasn’t even born yet. There was no Gold Line. The Foothill (210) Freeway was in its infancy. Old Pasadena was just beginning to turn around following decades of squalor. The popular culinary, nightlife and shopping Mecca was for many years considered a no man’s land.
In 2044, will there be a Pasadena Weekly? The paper has survived the trials and tribulations of the past 30 years, but everyone knows that print newspapers are unfortunately going the way of the Dodo, the pager and the laser disc. People, especially young people, now overwhelmingly get their news from social media, which has exploded in popularity over the past five years. Daily newspapers will most likely not exist in 2044. However, there is hope for community-based alternative weeklies, much like the good ol’ PW. Instant news consumption will invariably almost all be digital in three decades, but free weekly print papers can still provide investigative journalism and in-depth analysis of local stories, coverage of those inevitable issues of the future.
Water pollution, energy conservation, air quality, development, overpopulation, shifting demographics, policing and drones are all issues that aren’t going anywhere. As Pasadena City Councilmember Terry Tornek put it, “Thirty years is not a long time in the life of a city.”
One of the biggest challenges for Pasadena over the next 30 years will be transportation, as many of the city’s streets are already overcrowded.
“My hope for Pasadena in 2044 is that auto traffic will be a nonissue,” said Mayor Bogaard, “with mobility provided by walking, biking and new technological facilities such as moving sidewalks.”
Bogaard noted that another challenge for the city is whether Pasadena can retain all of the benefits of a diverse population when the cost of living goes up.
“I hope that technology allows Pasadena to achieve housing that is affordable to assure that the diverse population which makes up Pasadena today will continue and be embraced,” he said.
District 7 Councilmember Tornek, who is running for mayor, said the real question is not so much physical sustainability or ethnic diversity, but rather economic diversity.
“Because we value historic tradition so significantly, I don’t think the city will look dramatically different physically,” he said. “But is the marketplace going to drive less affluent people out of town? If we take diversity seriously as a community objective, how do we continue to make Pasadena affordable?”
The looming fight
In 30 years, the status of the controversial Long Beach (710 ) Freeway project will likely be one of three scenarios: defeated, built, or still tied up in court. Caltrans and Metro are currently studying five alternatives to the originally proposed surface freeway to connect the 710 and 210 freeways: constructing a 4.5 mile tunnel, building light rail, increasing bus service, making traffic improvements and a no-build option. The draft environmental impact report and statement is slated to be released in February.
In the year 2044, the proposed tunnel will have been defeated, the story of small, local communities battling the massive state transportation department and prevailing after more than a century, considering Caltrans first conceived the idea in the 1930s. Hopefully by 2044 other transportation options will have been considered and implemented to help relieve the area’s growing congestion.
“If Pasadena succeeds in overcoming the bureaucratic push for this obsolescent proposal in the next year or two,” said Bogaard, “the 710 freeway will be seen as a classic solution in search of a problem, and the community of Pasadena will escape the detrimental impacts of this traffic-creating facility.”
The tunnel will be completed and in use. This scenario will drastically alter the way Pasadena looks and feels in 30 years. In 2044 Pasadena will be celebrating the 155th Rose Parade. However, the parade may be affected if the tunnel is built, because one of the mouths of the tunnel will open right into Old Pasadena and the traditional route of the parade.
“It will be the apocalypse,” City Councilmember Steve Madison once said at a council meeting about this scenario.
The tunnel project will be tied up in the courts, neither side willing to cede ground. In this scenario, the only happy people are high-priced lawyers and low-income residents in the 710 corridor who haven’t yet been displaced from the homes that are currently slated to be sold starting this fall.
Down the road
In the meantime, light rail could still proliferate.
“One of the alternatives to the 710 being studied is light rail, which I have embraced,” said Tornek. “We could have unbelievable rail service. To everyone’s amazement we may actually have everyone getting out of their cars. There’s a real yearning for that. It’s an emerging trend that will have an impact on Pasadena.”
Local land use attorney Chris Sutton believes that the first scenario outlined above will be the one to play out, saying the project will just be “too expensive in light of shrinking gas tax revenues.” The saved money, he added, could be used to underground the Gold Line from Glenarm to Del Mar and to complete new light rail lines connecting to Glendale and westward and southward to East LA and Orange County.
With any luck, in 2044 the Gold Line will not only extend out to Montclair to the east, but also to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank to the west and be accompanied by several other light rail lines crisscrossing Pasadena, with stations at City Hall, Caltech, JPL and the Rose Bowl. One potential line could shoot up into Altadena to the foothills, where passengers could take a reconstructed Mount Lowe Railway up to Echo Mountain where a replica of the Echo Mountain House, a 70-room Victorian hotel, could be built. Other lines could pass through La Cañada Flintridge, Eagle Rock, Glendale and Alhambra.
Light rail lines could connect Pasadena to every other municipality and unincorporated community in southern California by the year 2044. Our city can and will be exactly the way we want it to be. The vision is there. The possibilities are limitless. All that’s needed is leadership.