Merchants Make Noise Over West Covina Soundwall

Business owners say soundwall blocks more than noise

Ismael Flores and his family have run Villa Tepeyac restaurant for 16 years. His primary advertising is a sign that would be covered up if a new 14-foot soundwall is built.

"The exposure off the freeway is what I believe keeps me in business," said Flores, owner of the restaurant.

The sound barrier is mandated as part of a new carpool lane project, according to highway planners. And that makes the project a mixed blessing.

Customer Sabrina Sobryan made Flores' point.

"We just drove by, coming from the mall," said Sobryan. "We saw it off the side of the road and decided to stop by and it's really good."

West Covina Mayor Mike Touhey is siding with the merchants. Touhey was among 70 residents, including Flores, who met with Caltrans last week.  The group is negotiating a way the wall would make as little impact as possible to businesses and residents. 

They say a major concern is a smaller six-foot wall which already exists in some areas between the Puente and Citris exits.

"Burglaries, trash, vagrants, everything that could possibly happen when you have a five-foot gap between the existing wall and the sound wall," says Mayor Tuohey.

"It's no reason to be there," says resident Dagoberto Veliz. "It's falling apart."

Veliz welcomes the new structure, but only if the one in his backyard goes away first. One proposal is for property owners to buy the land to fill the gap.  But Touhey says that creates another problem.

"Make sure we don't trigger a proposition 13 situation where they increase the size of the property that they don't have their properties reassessed, he said. "That would be like an insult to injury."

"Those residents will have a say in how the soundwall is built," says Patrick Chandler of Caltrans. "But there's many different options or solutions for that location. We haven't just settled on one yet "

Chandler says talks will continue before any wall goes up.  Flores hopes that's the case. He says the restaurant, featuring paintings of his father's childhood home in Mexico, is more than just an eatery.

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