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Toll Road Backers Cloud David, Goliath Roles

August 23, 1992

As a board member of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy and media volunteer responsible for much of the media advocacy alluded to by Transportation Corridor Agencies Public Affairs Director Michael Stockstill in a letter to The Times (Aug. 2), I must say I am flattered to find that our effectiveness is attributable to the fact that he feels we are so fully staffed and well-endowed. I can attest to the fact that this is not the case, and by clouding the issue, he has entirely missed the point of his own rebuttal.

Stifling opposition by government-instigated litigation was the issue that Mr. Stockstill failed to address in his rebuttal to the July 26 editorial, "Tollway Lawsuit Has Chilling Effect." This editorial discussed the fact that government-initiated litigation could set a dangerous precedent by inhibiting freedom of speech, potentially violating First Amendment rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The TCA's suit against concerned environmental groups seeks to dismiss our actions as spurious, when we have already proved that they are not, and seeks to eliminate environmental dissension on a questionable quasi-public works toll-road project in order to perhaps enhance their ability to interest financing from outside the United States, since these projects appear to be financially unsustainable in any other fashion.

The environmental organizations he references, in addition to the Laguna Canyon Conservancy (which he somehow neglected to mention), are suing the TCA on the basis of the impact that some of their proposed projects could have on the environment. We have also questioned whether these proposed projects are necessary at all and whether eligible alternatives have been adequately explored.

Mr. Stockstill appears to color our appearances to suit his own purposes. On the one hand, he has repeatedly demeaned our past efforts, while in his latest accusation we are accused of employing sophisticated media professionals and national allies with million-dollar budgets. Since both scenarios might experience difficulty coexisting in the real world, let me elaborate on who we really are.

The Laguna Canyon Conservancy is a true grass-roots organization that receives its primary financing not from year-round fund-raisers and national allies, but from nominal, $20-per-year memberships, goodwill donations, T-shirt sales and "mega" fund-raisers such as an occasional pot-luck supper. Much the same is true for the other environmental organizations Mr. Stockstill has referenced.

If we appear powerful to Mr. Stockstill, it is because we have hundreds, and on occasion, thousands of citizen supporters who believe in many of the same things that we do, which is simply that there are some scenic wildlife areas which need to be preserved before they are lost forever under a blanket of developers' concrete and steel.

Bette Midler is just one of these concerned citizens. We could never have afforded to pay for her endorsement, since as far as I know, it is not for sale at any price. The radio spots Mr. Stockstill referred to were performed by her at no charge, including studio expenses.

MARTIN EISLER, Dana Point

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