By Audrey Salas, 17, Bravo Medical Magnet HS
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The fight against the freeway has made Audrey appreciate her house more.

My house is cozy. It has a porch that doesn’t have a roof so at night I can see the stars. It has pink flowers in the front yard that contrast with the yellow house to give it a Spanish vibe. My living room ceiling is dome-shaped, which prevents the light from reaching the ceiling so it feels warm, like I’m in a library. Best of all, it’s in a part of eastern Los Angeles where everyone takes care of their homes. I’ve lived in my house for most of my life. I could never imagine leaving it.

So growing up it was scary knowing that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) wanted to build a freeway through my neighborhood. To extend the 710, Caltrans would either knock down my house, or build the freeway a few blocks away. My parents don’t have enough savings to buy a house, so if our home is demolished, we’d have to move to an apartment. If they build the freeway in my neighborhood, it wouldn’t be the same. Its peace and quiet would be replaced by honking truck horns.

Caltrans has always wanted to complete the freeway because they think it’s too inconvenient for drivers to exit the 710 in Alhambra, where it ends, and take the streets to Pasadena, about five miles away. If built, the freeway extension would cut through Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, and my neighborhood, El Sereno. I don’t understand why the people who support the freeway believe a shortcut is worth people’s homes.

Audrey and her mom have been fighting the extension of the 710 freeway for years. Photo by Ha Young Kwen, 16, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)

Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t right

I attended my first “NO 710” rally while still in a stroller. The rally was held in Pasadena. The trees blotted out the sun, the homes were clean and well kept, and almost all the lawns had flowerbeds. My parents and many others paraded the streets shouting and carrying “NO 710” signs. My mother explained to me that the trees and homes were going to be knocked down so that Caltrans could build a freeway. Even though I was 3, I wondered, “Why would anyone want to ruin such a pretty place?”

When I got older, my mom took me to town meetings about the extension. It was our chance to take our concerns to our community leaders. They used words I didn’t understand but I got the basics of what they were saying. Speakers argued that a freeway extension would bring more people. People would get off the exits to go to businesses like McDonald’s or Target. With more traffic comes smog and noise. Major streets would get even more congested. I felt like I had to save my community.

When I was 11, I helped my mom distribute flyers door to door to alert our neighbors about anti-extension events. I was eager to go with her so I could say I was doing something but I was scared. Would they listen to me? After my mom told me what to say to the residents, she said we should split up to go faster. Once someone answered the door, I would introduce myself and explain why the 710 extension was a threat to our community. I’d tell them how it would affect them and hand them a flyer. We had lawn signs with “710” crossed out. We’d load them into our car and ask if the residents wanted one. Most people said yes; it was awesome.

But one time, I rang the doorbell and a guy in a muscle shirt with a big belly opened his door. I was nervous, so all I could manage was a “Hi-my-name-is-Audrey-and-I’m-here-to-talk-about-the-710-extension. Have-you-heard-of-it?” All his answers were short. It seemed like he wanted me to get off his porch. He didn’t bother opening the screen door, so I put a flyer in his mailbox. Once I did, I bolted. I felt insignificant. Why should a grown man listen to an 11-year-old? But I kept going because I didn’t want the freeway to knock down my house.

I began to see the signs pop up on more and more people’s lawns. That’s when my mom and I thought that there was enough opposition to stop the freeway extension. We thought we had won.

Then last year, my mom called me into her room to watch a newscast about a proposal to run the freeway extension underground. At first, a tunnel seemed like a perfect answer. No homes would have to be knocked down.

After my mom went to a meeting, she told me the problems with the plan. Could California afford the multi-billion dollar project? (The Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimated that construction of the tunnel would cost between $2.3 billion to $3.6 billion, according to the MTA website.) How long would the project take? Since the tunnel would be built over a fault line, what would happen to the people inside the tunnel if there were an earthquake?

This wouldn’t happen in a wealthier community

I overheard someone telling my mom that there were no freeways running through Beverly Hills or San Marino. That made me wonder: why is it that the poor have to deal with freeways? I think of it as an indirect form of oppression. The poor have to accept what they’re given while the rich enjoy their untouched neighborhoods.

I think a good alternative is to extend the Metro Blue Line rail system. It would cost half as much as the tunnel, according to one speaker at a meeting. The MTA is studying the tunnel proposal to see if it can be done. I recently spoke at a town meeting. I told them how a rail system could benefit my neighborhood. I was scared but my home is my home and I’m willing to stand up for it.