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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Broken Promise Over South Orange County Tollroad?
O.C. developer sues over Foothill South route

Rancho Mission Viejo says the tollway agency is violating an agreement by planning the route through San Onofre

By David Reyes, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2007

Citing a disagreement over 150 acres, one of the largest developers in South County on Wednesday sued the transportation agency planning to extend a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

Rancho Mission Viejo filed suit in Orange County Superior Court after negotiations broke down with the Transportation Corridor Agencies concerning a decade-old agreement under which the company provided acreage allowing the agency to extend the tollway using a "far east alignment."

Last spring, however, the TCA chose a different route, rendering the agreement "null and void," according to a letter that Rancho President Anthony R. "Tony" Moiso sent to the toll road agency Wednesday.

Several meetings between the TCA and the company to resolve the issue have been unsuccessful, Moiso said in the letter.

Rancho Mission Viejo has contended that the route change would affect oak woodlands, impairing its environmental obligations for home construction in the area. In addition, the new route would traverse the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy.

In a prepared statement, Dan Kelly, the company's senior vice president for governmental relations, said the 1996 agreement was intended to avoid a costly and lengthy legal process. Instead, he said, "the TCA's actions have now forced us to seek the court's help" for clarification.

The 16-mile Foothill South route, one of eight options that were considered, has come under intense criticism by environmental groups because of its proposed path through San Onofre, a popular coastal park containing endangered species, unspoiled wetlands and world-renowned surfing spots.

Yet it would cause the least harm to natural resources and avoid the possibility of condemning hundreds of homes in San Clemente, the TCA has said.

A TCA spokeswoman Wednesday declined to comment on the lawsuit, which, she said, the agency had not yet seen.

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