Audit: Caltrans misused millions on '710 property' management

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Caltrans wasted millions of dollars in its management of a series of state-owned homes along the proposed 710 Freeway extension route in Southern California, according to a state audit released Thursday.

The agency didn't charge the market rate to tenants renting the 404 Pasadena-area homes and spent more money repairing properties than it gained in rent revenue, the state auditor's report said.

Caltrans "passed up roughly $22 million in rental income for these properties between July 1, 2007, and December 31, 2011, because of poor management," auditors wrote.

In a statement Thursday, agency officials said they accept the findings.

"Caltrans understands that its management of the '710 properties' has been poor and unacceptable," the statement said. "To improve our stewardship of these properties, Caltrans is taking immediate corrective actions in line with the State Auditor's report. Caltrans will also explore alternatives to state management of these properties to ensure it remains focused on its core mission: improving the safety and mobility of California's driving public."

The audit recommends Caltrans prepare a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the state would save money by hiring a private vendor to manage the properties.

The audit was requested by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, in 2011 after reports surfaced of inflated repair costs for state-owned homes. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported that Portantino expressed dissatisfaction with audit findings and questioned the agency's ability to complete the proposed 710 tunnel project that would connect "stubs" in the 710 freeway.

"We're talking about the public's trust and the public's money, and these folks have botched it," Portantino told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "To me the overriding conclusion is if you can't trust these people to repair a roof, how are we going to trust these people to build a $15 billion tunnel? It's outrageous."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Caltrans purchased the homes decades ago with the intention of demolishing the property to make room for the never-built 710 extension route.

Caltrans is considering several options for the project, which has been in planning stages for years. The project would close a 4.5-mile unconstructed gap between Interstate 10 in Los Angeles and the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. Communities in Alhambra, Pasadena, South Pasadena, and a portion of Los Angeles could be affected.

Caltrans is responsible for managing hundreds of parcels, ranging from commercial properties to homes to vacant lots, that it purchased beginning in 1954 for use as land on which to build the extension.

On Monday, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to oppose three proposed routes for the extension.

With contributions from Andrea Wang

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