Development takes toll on South Orange County surf spot
If you tuned in last summer, the mighty forces of government and commerce, which are one and the same, were closing in on poor little San Onofre and its wave-pumping, world-class neighbor known simply as Trestles.
Their instrument of infamy is a toll road poised like a loaded gun in the hills east of Mission Viejo, taking aim at this surfers' mecca.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies, a consortium of Orange County governments, is planning to extend the 241 toll road on a curving course through the San Mateo watershed, the state park of the same name, a land conservancy area and San Onofre State Beach, a dirt-road surf spot that is great for beginners and rife with vibrations of surfers' fellow love not often felt elsewhere.
This is Orange County and the juice is direct current, that is to say, it flows one way: pro-developer.
Ostensibly, that is, according to the attendant lobbyists and politicians, the toll road will relieve the horrific congestion on Interstate 5, which Orange County visionaries have relied on to supply transportation to the area for the last 50 years as the walled housing tracts filled the flats and terraced developments climbed the hillsides.
Ah, the march of civilization, ever southward -- guided by the wisdom of our civic leaders. Someday, I'm sure, it will reach San Diego.
CEO Bill Woollett says the TCA is "working toward beginning construction as soon as possible, but building a large infrastructure project, no matter how popular and needed is a complex and controversial undertaking."
He says construction will be delayed until 2010 at the earliest, moved back from 2008.
The TCA blames the necessary red tape: environmental impact reports, regulatory agencies, etc. It doesn't mention the four lawsuits against the toll road.
So San Onofre has been given a two-year reprieve, a victory, but the war is anything but over.
"This is still good news," said Mark Rauscher Surfrider Foundation's assistant environmental director. "The longer it doesn't happen makes it more likely that it will never happen."
At first glance Save San Onofre forces look like they're holding aces.
Rauscher said the staff of the Coastal Commission, which must OK the Foothill-South Toll Road, have opposed it on grounds that it was not in compliance with goals of the Coastal Act of 1972.
Surfrider has partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club to sue TCA.
Rauscher says Attorney General Jerry Brown's office is suing over encroachment onto the public lands on behalf of the California State Parks Commission.
Brown's lawyers are also suing on behalf of the Native American Heritage Commission over seven archeological sites that the toll road will impact.
The fourth lawsuit is a land dispute between TCA and an Orange County landowner.
A favorable bill, AB 1457, has been introduced in the Assembly. Sponsored by Jared Huffman, D-Marin, and co-authored by former L.A. Councilman Mike Feuer, the law requires any park-encroaching road builders to get an OK from the state parks director, which would present another obstacle to the toll road.
Rauscher said Surfrider is hiring someone to rally the troops and the dozens of organizations arrayed against the toll road. He believes with the TCA balking, that the combined strategies are working.
"We see it as a signal that we're doing the right thing, so we're ramping up our public support to protect Trestles and San Onofre," he said.
My understanding of the project is that it is something of a one-shot deal. There are no plans for an alternate route. The TCA is putting all of its money on a toll road that parallels the San Diego Freeway for the length of Camp Pendleton's 19 or 20 miles.
"They (the TCA) definitely have a lot of momentum going," Rauscher said. "It's been going for 20 years or more. This road was planned so long ago that it doesn't address traffic mitigation."
He said the 241 doesn't even connect properly with the I-5 Freeway.
I agree with Rauscher that the fight is far from over.
I'll bet somebody has put a pro-business, pro-developer type or two on the Coastal Commission -- a Republican with a funny accent, perhaps? Mr. Woollett is pretty confident to say that it will only take two years to defeat four lawsuits and an Assembly bill and a host of opponents.
He probably knows something that most people don't know: In politics and business, the juice is direct current, it flows one way -- the way the money wants it to.
But maybe, just maybe, the surf-loving citizens of Southern California can turn aside this loaded weapon and save San-0, like Bambi in its sights. Check it out at savesanonofre.com.