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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Coastal Commission rejects Foothill South toll road

Late-night vote goes 8-2 against project as commissioners challenge road agency's science and finances.

Despite Governor Schwarzenegger's support of the toll road thru the state park, 3 of his 4 appointees voted against it, with 1 supporting it. All 4 appointees of the State Senate voted no, while the State Assembly speaker's appointees were split 1 yes, 1 no, and 2 absent.

After defeat, O.C. tollway officials consider new route

The California Coastal Commission rejected plans for an extension of the Foothill South highway through San Onofre State Beach.
By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
3:42 PM PST, February 7, 2008
A day after their stinging defeat before the California Coastal Commission, Orange County toll road officials are considering a new route for a six-lane highway.

After 12 hours of public testimony and debate Wednesday, commissioners decided by an 8-2 vote that extending the Foothill South tollway through San Onofre State Beach would violate environmental laws designed to regulate development along 1,100 miles of California coastline.
"The news was disappointing," said Lance MacLean, chairman of the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which has spent years and tens of millions of dollars planning the Foothill South. "At the board's next meeting, we will brainstorm our options, which may include moving the route" of the highway.

Meanwhile, tollway opponents, heartened by the commission's decision, said the vote preserves the integrity of the California Coastal Act and sends a signal to private and public interests with plans underway to take state parkland for uses other than those originally intended.

"We absolutely think this is an important deterrent," said Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the State Parks Foundation, a toll road opponent. The decision "is a signal to those who want to use parkland for [something] which it is not intended and that they will face a hard road. These are not paths of least resistance."

The State Parks Foundation estimated last spring that there were 110 active or proposed development plans submitted by private and public interests that would encroach on 72 state parks. The plans include small takings of parkland by private property owners as well as for casinos, dairies, desalination plants, utility lines, streets and the now-rejected toll road.

Estimated to cost at least $875 million, the tollway would have run 16 miles from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita to Interstate 5 at Basilone Road, south of San Clemente. It would have coursed through the northern half of San Onofre and passed over the Trestles marine nature preserve. About 320 of the park's 2,100 acres would have been taken for the road.

San Onofre's northern part contains endangered species, an unspoiled stretch of San Mateo Creek, the 161-space San Mateo Campground, and archaeological sites, such as the Juaneno Indian village of Panhe. The nearby beach is known for two famous surf spots, Trestles and Old Man's.

Transportation Corridor Agencies officials said the tollway was needed to accommodate development in south Orange County and to provide congestion relief on Interstate 5, the heaviest traveled corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego. No alternatives were available, they said, and steps would have been taken to protect San Onofre's environment.

But with its decision, the commission overwhelming sided with a staff recommendation to reject the project because the tollway would violate the California Coastal Act, which is designed to protect endangered species, wetlands, archaeological sites, public access and recreational resources.

"This project looks like something from the 1950s," said Commissioner Sara Wan of Malibu, who voted against the tollway. "Putting a massive project in an environmentally sensitive area -- it's inconceivable."

MacLean said the Transportation Corridor Agencies may appeal the decision to the U.S. secretary of commerce because federal law applies to San Onofre, which sits on land leased from the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Commission officials say that since 1977, there have been more than a dozen such appeals, mostly by oil companies. About half of the decisions were overturned.

Sarah Christie, the Coastal Commission's legislative director, said the commerce secretary would have to find that the Foothill South route complies with the Coastal Act, a process that could take a year.

Even if the decision were overturned, Christie said, tollway officials would still need to obtain a development permit from the state, which would not be bound by the commerce secretary's decision.
Check out these links for some awesome coverage of yesterday's hearing:

-The LA Times (be sure to especially look for their gallery of photos from the hearing),0,5194686.photogallery

-The San Diego Union Tribune

-Surfer Magazine


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DEL MAR – The state Coastal Commission late Wednesday denied approval of the Foothill South toll road, delivering what could be the project’s fatal blow.

The 8-2 decision came after a 14-hour hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds at which more than 2,000 supporters and opponents gathered, chanting and carrying signs.

The 16-mile road would extend the 241 toll road through San Onofre State Beach park, habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered species, and pass within a few hundred feet of a popular campground.

Commissioners grilled representatives of the Foothill Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency about science, finances and other aspects of the toll road proposal.

The commission’s approval would have moved the tollway agency a step forward toward obtaining a number of additional approvals necessary before the road could be built.

The agency’s chief executive officer, Thomas E. Margro, said he will appeal the commission’s decision to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

“Many people support this project,” Margro said. “I thought we made a very strong case.”

The decision was announced at 11:19 p.m., and kicked off an impromptu celebration by whooping and hollering project opponents.

“This is an incredible moment,” said 35-year San Clemente resident Steve Netherby. “This is a moment we’ve been waiting for a decade. You can’t imagine the ecstasy we feel.”

One of the first signs of trouble came when Commissioner Sara Wan questioned the tollway agency’s data on the endangered Pacific pocket mouse, saying the agency had mischaracterized surveys of the mouse’s presence.

Coastal Commissioner Steve Blank also questioned tollway representatives sharply about the financing behind the road.

Margro said he did not how long an appeal of the decision to the Secretary of Commerce would take.

The road sparked strong opposition from activists, biologists and surfers. Among their fears were that it would ruin inland views from the ocean and destroy the delicate natural balances that give Trestles Beach its world-class surfing.

Supporters also turned out in great numbers.

Each side laid out its case throughout the day as a chanting, sign-toting crowd looked on, trying to quietly pantomime their approval or disapproval, as instructed by commission Chairman Patrick Kruer, but occasionally breaking out into cheers or boos.

The case against the road began with Coastal Commission staff.

“This toll road project is precisely the kind of project the Coastal Act was intended to prevent,” said Coastal Commission executive director Peter Douglas.

But advocates for the agency, including staff and consultants, hit back hard, disputing point by point each criticism leveled by commission staff.

They said objections were mostly myths and that building Foothill South would help save some species, not destroy them. They described why they believe surfing at Trestles would not be even marginally harmed by the road's construction or operation.

“The project will not touch a single grain of sand on any beach,” said Margro.

The flow of sediment from upstream during construction, which the tollway agency says it will carefully control, would not harm Trestles, he said, because a sand berm seals San Mateo Creek from the ocean most of the time. It opens during large storms.

“Only when the lagoon is open will anything affect coastal processes,” he said. The lagoon, he said, has not been open since 2005.

Another significant concern among activists and Coastal Commission staff was the endangered and threatened species habitat in the tollway's path.

Of greatest concern was the Pacific pocket mouse, a highly endangered rodent with only a few small populations left in the coastal area. The toll road route passes close to one of the mouse's last strongholds.

Rob Roy Ramey II, with the consulting firm Wildlife Science International, said construction of the toll road could represent a last hope for the mouse's survival.

A number of city and government officials from Orange County took turns at the microphone, many in support of the toll road, including county Supervisor Chris Norby, and some against, including Laguna Beach Mayor Jane Egly.

“None of us here wants to destroy the coastline,” Norby said. ”But we believe we can protect it while providing access and needed traffic relief.”

Surfer Graham Hamilton of Santa Monica took umbrage at a suggestion made several times that the surfers in the group simply want to protect their local territory.

“My opposition would be just as sharp if it crossed Yosemite or bisected Joshua Tree. The idea of building a toll road through a state park is not only ludicrous, it's lazy.”

A Timeline of Developments to date for proposed toll road extension

And From the Sierra Club:

The California Coastal Commission - at 11:20 pm this evening - voted 8-2 against the Toll Road going through San Onofre State Park. According to Executive Director Peter Douglas, this was the most important vote the Commission had considered since the approval of San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.

This was possibly the largest turn-out of members of the public for any one hearing.

Particularly strong voices included Commissioner Mary Shallenberger's insightful and knowledgeable comments about the Native American Sacred Sites, and her questioning of the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) representative;

Commissioner Larry Clark who explained his several trips on the toll road which alredy exists in Orange County and how very few vehicles travel on it, even while the 405 is continually congested (leading him to also suggest that the new CEO of the toll road authority put to use his background from BART in San Francisco on mass transit solutions!) AND revealed interesting things about the developments ALREADY APPROVED along the sides of the future toll road;

Commissioner Sara Wan, whose biological expertise and rigorous review of applicant reports is always unsurpassed and again was shining as she explained how the applicant's paid experts obviously did not understand how the Pacific Pocketmouse would move toward extinction under the plans for this road;

Commissioner Steve Blank, whose methodical questioning of the toll road's CEO showed off his brilliant mind and abilities as an expert in good business sense, but more importantly he explained about how a private road could simply not be built through a PUBLICLY owned state park and that, regardless of the financial future (which he does think is bleak), when the economy improves, the State Parks, some of which may need to be closed for the short-term, will still be there and are land and resources belonging o the public;

and Commissioner Mike Reilly, who explained several things eloquently, but particularly was good at articulating how depending on a one-time "gift" of funds to State Parks to help with their operating expenses was NOT the solution to State Parks' financial problems....and that we need to look for long-term, dependable funding sources.

AND -- former Commission chief counsel, Ralph Faust, really saved the day for everyone as he testified and explained again when asked about the legal allowances of "balancing" - a sometimes confusing method the Coastal Act allows for to make a decision which might seemingly be against one part of the Coastal Act -- and was attempted to be used by the toll road officials as a reason why this project could be approved. Fortunately, Ralph is an expert at this balancing provision of the Act, and his explanation was what the Commission Chair, Patrick Kruer, said moved him to support the staff recommendation of voting "no" to the federal consistency determination that would have allowed the toll road to proceed.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent his Secretary of Resources, Mike Chrisman, to verbalize the Administration's support for the toll road. Fortunately, three of the Governor's appointees did not follow his lead. This was surprising and uncharacteristic, in terms of the history of gubernatorial Commission appointments.

Voting YES - Steve Kram, Bill Burke

Voting NO - Larry Clark, Sara Wan, Bonnie Neely, Steve Blank, Mike Reilly, Khatchik Achadjian, Patrick Kruer, Mary Shallenberger.

There were two missing Commissioners: Ben Hueso (Hueso was ill; his alternate, Lorena Gonzalez, determined she had a conflict of interest due to her employer), Dave Potter (had no alternate)

Thank you letters and cards to the "No" votes are in order....please consider sending. Find addresses for the Commissioners at

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