by Jessica Rodriguez
photography by Sara Kirk

Sharilyn Morell has lived in her house on Beaver Way in La Verne for 26 years and says she is no longer able to use her back yard because of excessive freeway noise. Morell also says this linear crack was caused when an I-beam was pulled out of the ground during the freeway construction. The resulting damage spread across four houses on Beaver Way, she says. / photo by Sara Kirk

Sharilyn Morell has lived in her house on Beaver Way in La Verne for 26 years and says she is no longer able to use her back yard because of excessive freeway noise. Morell also says this linear crack was caused when an I-beam was pulled out of the ground during the freeway construction. The resulting damage spread across four houses on Beaver Way, she says. / photo by Sara Kirk

The ground shakes, and his ears ring as Donald Marrolli, a retired truck driver, stands in his backyard while a single motorcycle drives by no more then 10 yards away. This was a Saturday morning during what is considered one of the quieter times on the 210 Freeway.

Marrolli, a La Verne resident for more than 20 years, has been dealing with problems like this since the expansion of the 210 Freeway, finalized fall 2002. Marrolli’s house is located near the Foothill exit in La Verne, on Beaver Way.

Since the opening of the Freeway, he says his life has changed dramatically. While many families fled their houses near the Freeway, his family decided that they would stay. They were convinced that their lives would not be changed, and that the noise would not be noticeable. Since that first day, though, the house where he raised his children and built his life can no longer be considered a home to him.

Marrolli, along with four other home owners in his community, have filed a lawsuit against Caltrans and the city of La Verne. Noise tests were conducted in each of the five backyards to determine the decibel levels. They were conducted at different times of the day to get the most accurate readings.

Marrolli said that the most congested times on the freeway are not when noise is at its worst. If anything, the volume is reduced during those times. He says late at night or early morning traffic causes the worst noise problems for his family, when the freeway is empty and the one or two diesel trucks fly across the freeway.

“Being a retired diesel truck driver, I know what it is like to have an empty trailer bouncing along behind me,” says Marrolli. “Now, in my house, that is when the windows begin to vibrate, and my house feels more and more unlike home.” He says their upstairs and windows shake with the vibration from the freeway, 24 hours a day.

Noise is not the only way the freeway noise vibrations have wrecked havoc onto the Marrolli family. Their house foundation has begun to crack, and he feels the structure is coming apart. The support beams in his ceiling at the top of the staircase are splitting. This has all become visible since the opening of the 210 Freeway.

Marrolli’s pool has begun to settle. Its foundation has cracked, and the pool has torn lifted from the ground. The pool is no longer functional. He adds that before the pool was emptied, there were layers of exhaust pollution on the water’s surface. And even if the pool were in decent condition, the backyard is filled with pollution and a roaring noise that is unbearable.

There has been a number of tests conducted which suggest that inhalation of diesel exhaust over time can increase the chances of cancer. This is another big concern of the residents on Beaver Way. Marrolli said that prior to the opening of the freeway this had never been a concern.

“There are many areas where the trucks exhaust stacks are taller than the sounds walls, which makes the pollution even worse,” Marrolli says. “Now, how could this possibly be a correct way to keep the residents in their same life style as before the freeway came,” he adds.

During the noise controversy that arose almost immediately after the Freeway’s 2002 opening, La Verne city officials ordered independent noise tests to be conducted by Bill Lawson of Urban Crossroads, Inc. to discover affected areas. A number of Caltrans tests had already registered that noise levels near Leroy’s Boys home in La Verne were extremely high and above federal safety standards for noise pollution. Residents say that because the freeway was built at eye level there, with minimal sound wall protection, the noise levels are outrageous. Testing continues. Some residents feel that with all of the money spent on the tests, the noise mitigation results they need and want could already have been accomplished.

A group called CAFN, Citizens Against Freeway Noise, headed by Elliot Barken of Claremont, has taken the lead for citizens in the noise affected areas. Barken, whose property had the one of the highest decibels measuring for Claremont, is determined to get the community the results that he feels are right. “I’m a quarter mile away, and I can’t sleep with my bedroom windows open at night, and they face south, away from the freeway,” explains Barkan. He is leading an effort to gain federal and state monies to launch a California pilot program where the 210 Freeway’s ribbed concrete surface will be ground down and then layered with an asphalt-rubber combination meant to absorb noise. Barken says this asphalt/rubber combination has successfully been implemented in Arizona and has significantly reduced the decibel level, making area homes livable along the freeway’s corridor.

Caltrans officials answer that there are many freeways that are not this advanced with sound wall technology, so why should money be spent on this new freeway and not to update other freeways?”Barken counters that engineering errors were made at Live Oak Canyon and near Towne Avenue. He says that the freeway road bed is visible in those areas. Sound, he says, carries by line of sight. Also, he notes that the canyons in those two areas—Live Oak and Webb—tend to amplify sound waves. This, he says, was not planned for nor mitigated by Caltrans during its freeway planning. “When you come around a corner of your house, the noise will hit you full in the face like the wind,” says Barken. “It is a tsunami of sound; a ‘skirr’ and “skeeeel,” a low rumble coming down on top of you.”

Some, though, feel that the freeway is convenient, and the noise should not be an issue. Dan Dunn, Caltrans employee, is one of many who feels that noise should not be an issue because of all the good that the 210 freeway has brought to the local community. Indeed, along with all the heartache and debate the 210 Freeway has brought to the community, everyday drives have now become more convenient. Residents can now make it to the 15 Freeway without that maze of side streets and intersections.

But this logic is lost on a significant group of La Verne and Claremont residents. For them, the freeway’s opening surprised them with its high noise volume. Some claim they have not been able to sleep through the night. Others cite broken promises, noting that when the freeway was proposed in the 1970s, the cities of La Verne and Claremont fought against it. For a while, during the Jerry Brown era, the 210 extension was abandoned. But it was brought back in the 1990s, with the two governmental bodies supporting its extension with the Caltrans promise that it would not disrupt the standard of living in the cities. Now, many of the residents feel that this promise was not fulfilled. They feel that their standard of living has been disrupted, and that it can never be the same again unless they move away from the freeway.

Robert Rodriguez, former La Verne City councilman, who once lived relatively close to the Fruit Street exit, does not feel that residents were negatively affected by the expansion. “I feel that it was rather soothing; it sounded like a stream,” Rodriguez said in 2004. Many La Verne residents disagree with the city councilman though, including Donald Marrolli.

“With the windows vibrating and structure splitting, the freeway has become more then just an annoyance,” Marrolli says. Residents also question the drain holes in their freeway walls and fear their pets could crawl through and gain access to the Freeway, with the wall being just 10 yards from the traffic.

La Verne and Claremont city officials have addressed the problem with Rep. David Dreier and with Sen. Barbara Boxer in a bid to gain federal funding to install the rubberized asphalt. To date, funding is not forthcoming. But even if local officials are able to convince the federal or state government to pay for the work, La Verne and Claremont would need to contribute. Other cities like Woodside and Saratoga have been down this road themselves and contributed financially to find remedies.

The city of La Verne and city of Claremont agrees with the findings of the noise study they commissioned jointly. And they support the “efforts of Barken’s Citizens Against Freeway Noise group. But this in itself will not fix the problem. Perhaps $9 million would be needed to provide noise mediation for the 210 through La Verne and Claremont, 20 percent of which would likely have to come directly from the cities themselves, says Barken.

The completion of the 210 Freeway opens a new chapter in the history of the city. And while La Verne and its residents are on the same side, wanting to keep the noise where it belongs—on the Freeway, not in peoples’ houses, federal and state agencies are not part of the partnership—yet.