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Marines Get OK to Build Homes on Ocean Bluff

Coastline: Judge rejects Surfrider Foundation challenge to 60 Camp Pendleton duplexes, saying environmental report was adequate.

January 15, 1998|TINI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite protests from environmentalists that it will ruin an internationally famous surfing beach, a federal judge in San Diego has given the OK to the Marines to build 60 duplexes on a bluff at Camp Pendleton.

Environmentalists with the San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation have opposed the housing site overlooking the Trestles surfing spot, saying the 33-acre project at San Mateo Point will damage a wetlands preserve filled with wildlife.

"It means we've lost yet one more coastal zone," said Michelle Kremer, environmental legal affairs director for the group. "It's such a beautiful area. The walk-in experience to the Trestles is wonderful. There's no houses around you. You look up and all you see is open space."

The waves at Trestles have long appealed to surfers because of their consistent, good shape.

The Surfrider Foundation, dedicated to preserving California's coast, filed suit last summer to stop construction of the 120 units designed to be officers quarters on the base's northwest corner. The scenic location borders the spot where President Richard Nixon's Western White House was located in San Clemente.

Surfrider attorneys argued that the Marines had failed to carefully evaluate less environmentally damaging sites on the base's 120,000 acres, as required by federal law. They asked that the project be delayed until a lengthy environmental impact statement could be completed.

But in his 27-page decision issued this week, U.S. District Judge Rudy Brewster sided with the U.S. Marine Corps, agreeing that military officials had already done an extensive environmental assessment.

"We're real pleased with the outcome," said Tom Stahl, an assistant U.S. attorney who represented the Marines. "Basically, the judge said that the Marines had done what the process called for. They had taken a very hard look at all alternatives . . . and as a result, this is a project that not only meets the needs of the military but is also environmentally sensitive."

Marine officials have said that affordable housing for its recruits is much needed at Camp Pendleton. More than 1,000 officers and their families are waiting for base housing.

Planners had worked hard on addressing the environmental and visual concerns that were raised, Stahl said. That included designing buffers to make sure the runoff from the development doesn't disturb the ecologically sensitive wetlands, reducing the number of units in the project from 128 to 120 and setting back the project 600 feet from the ocean.

Those changes won support from the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Stahl said.

But environmentalists continue to believe that development will hurt the surrounding environment. They are considering filing an appeal.

"We still strongly believe this is an unnecessary project and its proposed location is unjustifiable," said attorney Tom Davis, who represented the foundation.

Construction of the project can now begin. However, a construction date has not been set, said Marine spokeswoman Gunnery Sgt. Janice Hagar, and design plans are still being finalized.

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