San Diegans Join Debate Over Disputed Toll Road

    Orange County’s
    toll road agency announced last week that it was asking the U.S. Department of
    Commerce to reconsider a Feb. 6 decision by the California Coastal Commission
    that decisively halted construction plans for a toll road through San Onofre
    State Park.

    Heading north, the proposed toll road would begin south of San
    Clemente
    , about 40 miles north of La Jolla,
    and run 16 miles to cut across the San Diego/Orange County line.

    The commission made its final 8-2 decision at the end of a
    12-hour meeting attended by nearly 3,500 Southern Californians
    at the Del Mar fairgrounds. San
    Diegans have paid particular attention to the roadway because San Onofre is a
    common vacation destination and the nation’s fifth most visited state park.

    Many panelists sided with Chairman Pat Kruer of Rancho Santa
    Fe in finding the toll road inconsistent with California
    state laws regulating development along the coastline.

    UCSD’s A.S. Council passed a resolution last year voicing
    opposition to the project, which was submitted by then-Eleanor Roosevelt
    College Junior Senator Kerry Kassam.

    “I think it’s important to preserve what’s left of our
    natural beauty in San Diego,”
    Kassam said. “San Onofre, especially Trestles
    Beach
    , is one of the most gorgeous
    places that students can visit to camp, swim, surf and indulge in a little bit
    of calm.”

    John Muir
    College
    senior Kenna Crouch
    attended the meeting in Del Mar,
    and said she agreed with Kassam’s concerns.

    “I think that Southern California is
    already an urban jungle,” Crouch said. “There are so many people with a special
    connection to [the park]. It would be morally wrong to destroy it so that
    people can drive faster.”

    The state park holds several endangered species and an
    untainted stretch of San Mateo Creek. In addition, it houses the San Mateo
    Campground and several archaeological sites, including the Juaneño American
    Indian village of Panhe.

    Opponents of the $875-million, six-lane project say it would
    destroy natural habitats, wetlands and public recreation areas, including the
    renowned surfing spot at Trestles. Surfers claim the road would block the
    sediment deposits that create the waves there.

    Encinitas resident Troy Brajkovich said the ruling was a
    huge win for surfers.

    “Basically the best spot for professional surfing in California
    was going to be ruined to a certain extent,” Brajkovich said.

    It was estimated that 320 of the park’s 2,100 acres would
    have been taken by the project, according to the California
    State Park
    and Recreation
    Commission.

    Transportation Corridor Agencies, the company that operates Orange
    County
    ’s toll road system, argued
    that the toll road is necessary to maintain the economy, environment and
    quality of life in Southern California, estimating a
    60-percent increase in traffic at the Orange/San Diego County border by 2025.

    “We are very disappointed that the Coastal Commission failed
    to recognize the years of study that have gone into this roadway’s planning and
    design to protect the environment and valuable state park and coastal
    resources,” Lance MacLean, chairman of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation
    Agency, said in a statement.

    TCA also cited independent scientific studies as evidence
    that the roadway will have “negligible impact” on San Onofre State Park and Trestles
    Beach
    .

    More than 40 elected officials from Southern
    California
    , the majority of whom represent cities in Orange
    County
    , spoke at the meeting to
    support the roadway.

    They said the project is environmentally friendly because it
    would reduce pollution from cars sitting in traffic. They also claimed that a
    counterproposal by environmentalists to expand Interstate 5 would result in the
    elimination of hundreds of homes and businesses next to the freeway while
    unsuccessfully confronting problematic traffic delays.

    About a dozen elected officials from San
    Diego
    County

    attended the Del Mar meeting.
    Those from Carlsbad and Oceanside
    supported the construction, while those from coastal cities farther south
    protested it.

    Crouch said the atmosphere of the public forum at the Del
    Mar meeting was encouraging.

    “Generally everyone was being respectful,” she said. “People
    were saying that they want to save Trestles for their grandkids.”

    Several hundred union workers wearing bright orange shirts
    showed up to support the project, shouting “We need the work.”

    The road’s opponents, wearing blue T-shirts that read, “Save
    the Park, Stop the Toll Road,”
    booed the proponents.

    Hundreds of people wishing to speak submitted requests to be
    heard at the meeting.

    However, Kruer closed public comment at 8:30 p.m., saying
    that if everyone were allowed to speak, the meeting could have lasted up to 38
    hours.

    Construction on the project cannot commence without the
    approval of a coastal development permit, but the secretary of the Department
    of Commerce has the right to override the Coastal Commission, a decision not
    expected for approximately a year.

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