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Metro/Caltrans Neighborhood Erasure along the Lower 5 Freeway – Streetsblog Los Angeles

Last Summer, Metro and Caltrans announced that their plans for widening the 605 and 5 Freeways would impact more than a thousand properties, including the demolition of hundreds of homes, mostly in the cities of Downey and Santa Fe Springs. The large number of demolitions, and even Metro’s involvement in them, came as a surprise to some readers. Unfortunately, the destruction is a continuation of Metro work already underway.

Metro and Caltrans South 5Freeway Widening project status - from November 2020 Metro presentation
Metro and Caltrans South 5Freeway Widening project status – from November 2020 Metro presentation

For a decade, Metro and Caltrans have been widening the southern portion of the 5 Freeway – seven miles between the Orange County Line to the 605 Freeway. The $1.9 billion mega-project has been under construction since 2011, and is expected to be complete in late 2022. Caltrans has repeatedly made false claims about the project, stating that it will “reduce pollution” and “minimize congestion.” The project website currently states that it will “decrease surface street traffic and help improve air quality.” Of course, no freeway widening anywhere has ever delivered these sorts of benefits.

What the project has delivered is a massive erasure of neighborhoods – houses, apartments, businesses – mostly in the cities of Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs. In 2006, the L.A. Times reported that the then-$1.2 billion project would impact “as many as 200 homes and nearly 350 businesses.” The project’s 2007 Final Environmental Impact Report shows 210 full residential parcel acquisitions, predominantly (184) in the city of Norwalk.

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South 5 Freeway widening project parcel acquisition totals. Alternative 5a shows 210 full residential parcels, mostly home demolitions in the city of Norwalk. Chart from FEIR

Below are some before/after images showing how Metro has demolished L.A. County homes for the South 5 Freeway widening project.

Ringwood Avenue xxxx 2007 - via Google maps
Ringwood Avenue at Mondon Avenue in Santa Fe Springs in 2007 – via Google Street View
The same stretch Ringwood in Santa Fe Springs in 2021 - photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
The same stretch of Ringwood at Mondon in Santa Fe Springs in 2021. Along this part of Mondon, Metro demolished at least a dozen homes.
Zeus Avenue in Norwalk, 2007 - via Google Maps
Zeus Avenue at Lyndora Street in the city of Norwalk, 2007 – via Google Street View
The same stretch of Zeus Avenue in Norwalk in 2018 - via Google Maps
The same stretch of Zeus Avenue in Norwalk in 2018 – via Google Street View. In this location, Metro demolished at least 16 homes and a couple of apartment buildings.
Union Norwalk 2007
Two-story apartment buildings along Union Street at Paddison Avenue in Norwalk in 2007 – via Google Street View
Union Norwalk 2015
The same Union Street site in Norwalk in 2015 – via Google Street View. Metro demolished a half-dozen apartment buildings and a pair of office buildings at this location.
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Zeus Avenue by Union Street in the city of Norwalk, 2007 – via Google Street View
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The same stretch of Zeus Avenue in Norwalk in 2021. In this location, Metro demolished at least four homes.
12816 Zeus Avenue in 2011 - via Google maps
12816 Zeus Avenue in 2011 – via Google Street View
12816 Zeus Avenue in 2021 - photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
12816 Zeus Avenue in 2021
Maidstone xxx
Maidstone Avenue in the city of Norwalk, 2007 – via Google Street View
The same stretch of Maidstone in 2021. Note the outsized height of the 5 Freeway walls here - taller than the ~40-foot utility poles. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
The same stretch of Maidstone in 2021. In this location, Metro demolished a half-dozen homes. Note the outsized height of the 5 Freeway walls – they are taller than the ~30+foot utility poles.
Corby Norwalk 2012
Corby Avenue at Everest Street in Norwalk in 2012 – via Google Street View
Corby Norwalk 2021
The same stretch of Corby Avenue in Norwalk in 2021. In this location, Metro demolished at least six homes.

Metro and Caltrans demolitions have not been limited to homes and apartments, but include several large retail sites, too.

Demolition was by no means limited to homes and apartments. The xxxx San Antonio 2007 - via Google Street View
Commercial strip along San Antonio Road at Olive Street in Norwalk in 2007 – via Google Street View
The same former San Antonio Road retail site is a vacant lot in 2021. San Antonio Road has been widened, narrowing the footprint (decreasing walkability, increasing noise) for any development that would utilize this site in the future.

To see more of these sorts of pictures – one can follow Metro and Caltrans’ “My5LA” Twitter account, which shows off demolition sites that these agencies appear to be proud of.

Metro and Caltrans show off their home demolition sites via Twitter
Metro and Caltrans show off their home demolition sites via Twitter
Depressing erasure tweeted to you by Metro and Caltrans
Depressing erasure tweeted to you by Metro and Caltrans

The project website features high-production-value photos of Metro demolition sites, for example this panorama of home and business demolition sites north and south of Imperial Highway in Norwalk. Perhaps Metro and Caltrans could spend less money on touting their demolitions, and direct the savings toward preserving homes?

5 Freeway aerial photo showing Imperial Highway and Pioneer Boulevard in Norwalk - via I5 Website
5 Freeway aerial photo showing Imperial Highway and Pioneer Boulevard in Norwalk – via 5 Freeway Website
Mark-up showing demolition sites along Caltrans 5 Freeway photograph
Mark-up showing some home and business demolition sites visible in Metro/Caltrans 5 Freeway photo

The above photos may seem like a lot, but do not show all of Metro and Caltrans’ demolition sites along the 5 Freeway between Orange County and the 605. The 2007 FEIR shows 210 residential demolitions over seven miles.

And Metro Highway Program plans are getting worse. Metro’s 605 Corridor Improvement Project (605CIP) plan calls for a greater intensity of demolition: 200+homes along just ~2.5 miles of the 5 Freeway through the city of Downey. Fortunately the Metro board recently signaled that these excessive home demolitions may no longer be acceptable. An October 2020 motion directed Metro staff to study less harmful alternatives for the 605CIP.

Even when freeway projects have been canceled, Caltrans has been reluctant to relinquish the housing it has acquired. For example, although Metro canceled the $6 billion North 710 Freeway tunnel project in 2017, Caltrans has yet to determine what it will do with the homes it now owns in that corridor. In late 2020, a group of unhoused families and activists occupied some of Caltrans’ vacant residences in El Sereno. But law enforcement arrived to remove them that same day, and now guard the homes to ensure they remain empty.

Big transportation agencies, Caltrans and Metro included, should stop touting their demolitions as accomplishments. Their project decisions have lasting adverse impacts on communities – particularly on the housing supply, and particularly at a moment when the state is experiencing such shortages. As agencies plan for the future, they need to play more positive roles in preserving homes, and ensuring their projects preserve and contribute to – rather than detract from – the local housing (especially affordable housing) supply.

This vacant land, viewed from Norwalk's Silverbow Avenue pedestrian overpass, was a dozen homes. Metro and Caltrans have demolished hundreds of homes for their South 5 Freeway widening project. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
More vacant land – viewed from Norwalk’s Silverbow Avenue pedestrian overpass – where Metro and Caltrans demolished homes to widen the 5 Freeway

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