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Thursday, September 27, 2007

San Diego joins opposition to toll road extension. More than 12 cities or counties disapprove of its route, which cuts through San Onofre park and wetlands.

By David Reyes, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 27, 2007

San Diego has joined a growing chorus of cities opposed to a toll road extension through San Onofre State Beach, surprising and disappointing tollway officials who are battling for support.

The San Diego City Council voted 6 to 2 Tuesday night to support the state Park and Recreation Commission's opposition to the route and urge the Orange County toll agency to find an alternative, said San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye, who introduced the resolution with two colleagues.

Map "At stake is setting a precedent that says we should use our public parkland to accommodate more growth and development," Frye said.

The proposed roadway through southern Orange County is bad policy, she said.

San Diego joins more than a dozen cities or counties in the state that oppose the toll road extension. Among them are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ventura County and the Orange County cities of Laguna Beach and Aliso Viejo, according to a coalition to stop the turnpike.

Although the council's action is nonbinding, Frye said the proposed route travels from Orange County into the northern part of San Diego County and is within San Diego's regional transportation plan.

The Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies needs approvals from state and federal agencies to build the 16-mile Foothill South toll road, which would cross the northern half of the popular coastal park.

San Diego's action takes on greater emphasis coming just two weeks before the toll road's Oct. 11 hearing before the California Coastal Commission, said Sara Feldman, a spokeswoman for the California State Parks Foundation.

"This road is not a good traffic solution," Feldman said. "It cuts through the park and also through a wetlands. It could affect a nearby surfing beach where Trestles is located, and there are 11 endangered or threatened species in the San Mateo watershed."

Getting approval from the Coastal Commission, which regulates development along the state's shoreline, is viewed as the most difficult hurdle for toll road officials. Lance MacLean, chairman of Orange County's Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, which has proposed the extension, said the road had been studied for nearly two decades and during that time had come under heavy scrutiny.

He was surprised that the item was put on the San Diego council agenda after the tollway agency had worked with Southern California regional transportation groups that debated the route.

"It was odd for the San Diego council to weigh in on a project, which, quite frankly, is not in their jurisdiction," MacLean said. Tackling an issue for a proposed project far away from a city council's legislative reach is an "easy political vote," he added.

"It's out of their jurisdiction and it allows them to appease the environmentalists," said MacLean, a Mission Viejo councilman.

Frye took exception with MacLean's view.

"It's not out of our jurisdiction," she said. "The city of San Diego is known, at least in the past few years, as being more environmentally conscious than some of our neighboring cities to the north."

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