At yesterday’s meeting of the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority (I5JPA), CEO / Authority Engineer Yvette Kirrin expressed frustration that Metro’s 605/5 freeway extension had been “hijacked” by community-based organizations and Metro’s Office of Gender Equality and Race.
I5JPA supports capacity expansion on 5 Freeway. Metro’s 5 Freeway expansion plans are part of the 605 Freeway Corridor Improvement Project (605CIP.) In August 2020, Metro announced that 605CIP would demolish hundreds of homes, mostly along the 5 in the towns of Downey and Santa Fe Springs. In October 2021, the Metro board approved a proposal calling on Metro staff to explore alternatives that would minimize demolition of homes (“fair impacts”) and to work with Metro’s Office of Equity and Race to make it more outreach. contact with stakeholders in the corridor.
Yesterday, the I5JPA ED Kirrin stated:
Regarding 605 [605CIP], there has not been much going on with 605. It is clear that we have listened to our board of directors expressing concern that Metro will somehow be, I would say, hijacked by the community-based organizations and the equity group in terms of to not want to get on with what would normally be an approved NEPA / CEQA [National Environmental Policy Act / California Environmental Quality Act] state and federal process. Gateway Cities Corridor Cities Committee [Gateway Cities Council of Governments SR 91/605/405 Corridor Cities Committee] met, gosh, almost a year ago now – we’m talking about last February – in 2021 – and made a recommendation that they would have the EIR [Environmental Impact Report] to go out, but that they wanted to see a public participation plan before EIR went out. And we never saw it. So I think we have a right to be frustrated and continue to be frustrated.
Kirrin is not the first highway supporter in Southern California to express frustration at having to address equity.
Metro itself has been critical of having to consider equity in its own projects.
Metro Senior Executive Officer Abdollah Ansari has long been a staunch supporter of highway expansion. Earlier this year, Ansari Metro mocked public participation processes to get in the way of highway projects.
In a Metro presentation in August 2021, Ansari was critical of “recent considerations” that prevented the agency from moving forward with highway widening projects. Among these considerations: “inclusion of equity and racial impact assessment[s]”And” expanded public participation in project development. “
There is a lot not to like in Metro’s presentation.
While calling equity a “recent concern” may be a tacit acknowledgment that past highway projects have actually harmed stock communities, it is misleading to describe equity as a “recent” concern. There is a long history of communities with color battles Metro and Caltrans highway projects. In 1972, civil rights groups filed the Keith v. Volpe case to curb 105 freeway home evictions and displacement. Today’s Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice (CEHAJ) was formed in 2001 to fight Caltrans’ proposal to expand 710 from 8 to 16 lanes. Caltrans and Metro have canceled highway projects in whiter affluent communities – including Beverly Hills and South Pasadena – while cutting out color communities – including Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles.
Caltrans and Metro have long stories of displacing many homes and businesses – predominantly in color communities. Metro and Caltrans continue to displace families in 2021, and Metro and Caltrans continue to plan plenty of future shifts.
Since taking over responsibility for Metro in June, CEO Stephanie Wiggins has repeatedly stressed that equity is among her top priorities.
That’s welcome, much – needed imperative, but will the CEO’s priorities reach Metro employees – like Ansari – who criticize Metro’s modest steps towards equity? Can Metro go beyond lip service and stop the ongoing damage that its highway widening projects are currently causing?
Many Metro employees are now squandering the word equity in their highway expansion spaces. In the last decade plus, Metro had pushed harmful 710 expansions that would have displaced hundreds of homes and increased pollution in already polluting communities. Presentations on Metro’s new 710 Freeway expansion task force repeatedly emphasize that 710 Freeway expansion is being reconsidered to support equity. Although an agenda has not yet been posted on the Metro 710 Extended Task Force website, next week’s meeting (which Metro announced would be Monday, October 19) is expected to focus on Metro’s equity assessment tool.
In some cases, Metro employees have an inappropriate definition of equity. In some cases (eg This September 2021 Metro staff report on extension of Highway 710), some Metro statements imply that progress in equity means building highway projects in stock communities – to address traffic jams there (although these communities know that highway widening actually increases congestion.)
But is motorway expansion really compatible with equity?