Rejected Toll Road Again Threatens Popular Southern California State Park
SAN DIEGO, CA (May 22, 2013) – The first five-mile segment of a planned 16-mile toll road through south Orange County and northern San Diego County fails to account for a range of ecological and economic impacts, according to a new lawsuit filed by the Save San Onofre coalition today. The suit asserts that the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA)’s approval of the flawed toll road project is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for not meeting basic environmental review.
Dan Silver, executive director of the Endangered Habitats League, said that “This illegal segment is a desperate attempt to perpetuate a project which is so contrary to the public interest. TCA’s existing toll roads are a financial disaster, and we shouldn’t throw good money after bad.”
Members of the coalition initially filed a CEQA lawsuit against TCA in 2006 for CEQA violations regarding the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Foothill-South Toll Road. Before that case was resolved, however, in February, 2008, the California Coastal Commission rejected the Toll Road after heeding concerns from thousands of residents and activists who participated in Commission hearings to oppose the project. The Bush Administration’s Commerce Department upheld the Coastal Commission’s decision later that year. In addition to filing the new lawsuit, the coalition took steps today to reinstate its 2006 CEQA action.
“The turnout to the hearings in 2008 was historic,” said Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Damon Nagami. “The idea of paving over this coastal open land really hit home for a lot of people and they showed up to defend it. Now the threat is back and we are prepared to defend it again. TCA can’t just bulldoze over the whole public approval process.”
Despite the project’s rejection by the state and federal agencies, TCA has moved forward with plans to build the project by dividing it into segments. They approved the first part of this plan, a 5.5 mile extension of the 241 south to Cow Camp Road, called the “Tesoro Extension,” at a hastily called meeting on April 18th. The coalition asserts that this piecemealing process is illegal, and has re-opened its original lawsuit over the EIR, in addition to filing a new challenge against the Tesoro Extension approval.
“The TCA must think that the only way to resurrect this awful project is by deception, and without giving the public a fair chance to weigh in,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, California Policy Manager for Surfrider Foundation. “They were stopped by a well-informed and concerned public in 2008, so they are doing their best to avoid that kind of attention this time.”
San Onofre State Beach Park is home to eleven threatened or endangered species, and attracts 1.6 million visitors a year. It is also home to the world-famous surf break Trestles, which by itself has been estimated to generate an annual economic value of $24 million to the nearby city of San Clemente. Numerous independent studies have challenged both the traffic alleviation effects and the financial viability of the proposed toll road.
“Building a toll road through a state park was a bad idea when it was rejected by the Bush Administration in 2008 and is a bad idea now,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. “TCA is selling the public on a road that won’t alleviate traffic and will literally cut in half one of the most popular state parks in California.”