| PASADENA WEEKLY EDITORIAL|
Legislature Needs to Take Control of Caltrans
by Kevin Uhrich
There are clearly some things that Caltrans is better at than it is at others.
And clearly managing the hundreds of agency-owned properties awaiting destruction since the 1970s as officials worked to complete the Long Beach (710) Freeway extension route through El Sereno, South Pasadena and parts of western Pasadena is not one of the things it is very good at.
In fact, Caltrans is as bad as if not in some cases worse than the worst slumlords operating today in the California income-property business.
As reporter Chip Jacobs found in his outstanding three-part series, “Corridor of Shame,” the powerful state agency has turned a deaf ear to repeated pleas from tenants, along with calls from state, county and city officials, to fix its properties.
And as a result, “Caltrans has allowed many of its rental homes along the un-built … freeway extension to wither into perpetual neglect and battered, mothballed shells that draw crime and a slum-like aura to their neighborhoods,” Jacobs reported.
But making matters worse, people renting state-owned housing continue to face “pest infestations, corroded plumbing, leaky roofs, rotted floors, exposure to mold and, possibly, lead paint, among other defects. ”
In fact, Jacobs reported that “about a quarter of the parcels [Caltrans] owns along the corridor remain so dilapidated they can’t be leased or languish as empty lots, depriving local government of several millions of dollars worth of yearly rental income, property taxes or badly needed affordable housing, records show.”
This is a long-festering situation that has been not only a major cause for concern, but also a source of embarrassment for anyone associated with the freeway extension battle.
But Caltrans isn’t complaining. That’s partly because last year alone Caltrans took in $7.9 million in rents from its 710 properties, and the agency is on track to set even higher records for the amount of rents it is collecting this year. That doesn’t account for the nearly $4.5 million the agency saved last year in much-needed repairs to nearly all the properties it owns along the proposed freeway connector corridor.
Of the 587 units owned by Caltrans, 40 or more in Pasadena have landmark status. Many are vacant. “Often poorly secured, the houses have been vandalized by indigents, would-be squatters, contractors, even devil worshippers, according to neighbors and police,” Jacobs reported.
Meanwhile, some historic homes that have undergone $500,000-plus renovations are still faulty, so they are boarded up and left unoccupied, Jacobs found.
Perhaps in another time, this kind of bureaucratic inertia might be tolerable. But not today.
Today, more people than in many years are out of work. Today, more families need homes than in many years past. Today, as older communities build out, the need for available land to build homes, schools and other public structures has never been greater. Today, more women and children than ever have found themselves living in the streets for need of affordable housing.
Meanwhile, one of the most powerful agencies in the state continues to thumb its nose at those people, their own tenants and elected and appointed representatives in the communities that this project has touched — more aptly, scarred — since the late 1960s.
This type of governmental indifference to human pain and suffering, not to mention the outright arrogance exhibited, is untenable and needs to be checked this instant.
We are heartened to know that at least one local lawmaker, Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, has the courage to take on Caltrans. She is planning on holding a public hearing this summer to determine whether those properties should be taken out of the state transit agency’s control.
We welcome Liu’s idea and encourage residents of Pasadena, South Pasadena and El Sereno to let their feelings be known about Caltrans, one of California’s worst slumlords.
We further encourage our other state lawmakers to band with Liu, confront this issue head-on and devise an alternative plan to solve a serious problem that has haunted this community for far too long.
Week 1: Corridor of ShameóNo Exit
Week 2: The UntouchablesóCorridor of Shame
Week 3: Tunnel VisionsóCorridor of Shame
Week 5: No Place Like These HomesóCorridor of Shame
• Chip Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.