Californians to Speak Out to Save Our State Parks

Today in Del Mar, California, the Bush Administration is finally holding a public hearing on the fate of the state park at San Onofre.

As I wrote about previously, the California Coastal Commission voted overwhelmingly to block a massive toll road from destroying San Onofre, the fifth-most visited park in the state park system. Over 3,500 people - most of whom oppose the toll road - attended the public hearing before the Coastal Commission in February this year, the largest number in the history of the Commission. Californians undeniably care and are passionate about this park.

The toll road agency appealed the Coastal Commission's landmark decision to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has override authority, but does so rarely and only under extraordinary circumstances.

Understandably, the toll road agency didn't want a hearing. Not after witnessing the extraordinary outpouring of support for our state parks at the Commission hearing. Fortunately, after receiving thousands of requests, Commerce granted one anyway.

But then they cancelled it, citing concerns over the possibility that - by some estimates - over 10,000 people might show up. But wouldn't that be a good thing? As we and our allies pointed out to Commerce, the unprecedented level of public interest in this critically important matter simply confirms the need to hold this hearing.

After a public outcry, Commerce rescheduled the hearing for today. But there's a catch. Commerce required people who wanted to testify to submit their request in writing a full ten days before the hearing. Requests were then "randomly" selected and assigned to time slots that weren't announced until late Thursday - just days before the hearing. Finally, to add insult to injury, members of the public will be the last ones to testify - after elected officials, organizations, and tribes - and only if there is time remaining.  Members of the media, too, are being required to pre-register.

These restrictions by the Bush Administration clearly burden the fundamental right of public participation, rather than encourage it. The primary purpose of a public hearing is to hear from the public. We protested against these strict limitations - to no avail. But we will be there on Monday - and we hope you will too - to support our cherished state parks, and we will continue to do everything in our power to defeat this toll road and save the state park at San Onofre.

Save the Park. Stop the Toll Road.