Coastal Commission Staff Report Deals Severe Blow to Proposed Orange County Toll Road

Proposed Six-Lane “Super Highway” through San Onofre State Beach called “Most Environmentally Damaging” Alternative
Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks foundation, released the following statement in response to the California Coastal Commission staff’s report on construction of a 16-mile long toll road slicing through San Onofre State Beach.
“The Coastal Commission staff report is welcome news to every Californian who is concerned about protecting our state parks and beaches. Based on a comprehensive analysis, California Coastal Commission staff issued a 236-page indictment of a proposal to build a toll road through the state park at San Onofre State Beach. The report establishes that this project will not only destroy one of our most important coastal park lands but it will also threaten the integrity of the Coastal Act itself. If approved, the toll road would eliminate irreplaceable recreation areas, reduce coastal access, fill wetlands and destroy sensitive habitat areas.
“The report's recommendation of disapproval is a critical step toward the demise of a uniquely destructive project that, more than any other in recent memory, threatens the environmental, recreational, and economic resources that belong to all Californians.
“The staff report is among the strongest I have ever seen in many years of working on state resources issues. It is balanced, objective and comprehensive. We’re hopeful that the Coastal Commissioners, who are the ultimate decision makers on this issue, will concur with their staff’s recommendation at their October 11, 2007 meeting.
“Specifically, this report concludes that the Transportation Corridor Agencies of Orange County (TCA) proposed a toll road that goes through the wrong place, is based on wrong thinking, and ultimately, is wrong for California.
The staff report states this proposed route for the toll road would:
  • Fragment and transform one of the last remaining intact watersheds and coastal canyon ecosystems in all of southern California
  • Have impacts that would be ‘permanent, irreversible and for the most part, unmitigatable.’
“Equally important, and in recognition of what the California Department of Parks and Recreation stated years earlier, the Coastal Commission staff report clearly states that this toll road, contrary to assertions from its sponsors (the TCA), would result in the de-facto closure of a trail to the coast and the ‘abandonment or severely limited use of the park’s most popular campground.’
“This objective review by Coastal Commission staff should provide ample evidence that San Onofre State Beach should be saved and other toll roads or other routes explored in more detail.
“The Coastal Commission staff report specifically finds that this route was not the least environmentally damaging alternative. In fact, the staff report says that when all impacts are taken into account, putting the toll road through this state park ‘is the most environmentally damaging rather than the least environmentally damaging feasible alternative...’”
Excerpts from the California Coastal Commission Staff Report and Recommendation on Consistency Certification for the Foothill Transportation South (FTC-S) toll road:
“In addition to the disturbance and destruction of untold numbers of these six species and potentially irreparable harm to their local, regional and global populations, populations which have been consistently recognized as both vitally important and gravely threatened, the project would fragment and transform one of the last remaining intact watersheds and coastal canyon ecosystems in all of southern California.” (pg. 3)
“ would be difficult to imagine a more environmentally damaging alternative location for the proposed toll road and one which would be more clearly
inconsistent with the environmentally sensitive habitat resource protection requirements contained within Coastal Act Section 30240.” (pg. 3)
“No measures exist that would enable the proposed alignment to be found consistent with the Coastal Act. However, numerous alternative
alignments are feasible and could be found consistent with the Coastal Act....” (pg. 10)
“When the value of these resources is taken into account, the project is the most environmentally damaging rather than the least
environmentally damaging feasible alternative...Moreover, the toll road’s impacts would be permanent, irreversible, and, for the most part,
unmitigable.” (pg. 5)
“ is more likely that the proposed toll road would encourage continued growth, low density housing and inefficient transit patterns, and that the traffic system within the region would be equally or more congested than it is currently. Thus the toll road’s impact on emissions is likely to add to, rather than reduce, vehicle emissions on I-5.” (pg. 8)
“The project would result in significant adverse effects on public access and recreation, particularly at the campground and related recreational resources in San Onofre State Beach (SOSB).  Significant adverse effects would occur both during construction and after completion.  Such effects may include the de-facto closure of the coastal access Panhe Trail, the abandonment or severely limited use of the San Mateo Campground, the temporary occupation and permanent alteration of the California Coastal Trail, and the overall interference and degradation of the recreational use of SOSB.” (pg. 6)
“The Commission could not more strongly disagree with TCA’s arguments that on balance it is most protective of significant coastal resources to authorize the project.”  (pg. 230)