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Parks Panel Urges State Officials to Block Tollway

Opponents of the road through an O.C. park want governor, attorney general involvement.

November 19, 2005|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The fight over a proposed toll road through San Onofre State Beach Park moved north Friday as the State Park and Recreation Commission urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to block the controversial 16-mile project.

At a Tahoe City meeting chaired by Commissioner and actor-director Clint Eastwood, the panel unanimously called for Schwarzenegger and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to intervene in the Transportation Corridor Agencies' project to relieve congestion in south Orange County by building an $875-million toll road from Oso Parkway near Mission Viejo to Interstate 5 near San Clemente.

The commission's action followed a contentious Nov. 3 meeting in San Clemente attended by more than 1,000 people who were largely against the most likely route for the proposed Foothill South.

The toll road is opposed by environmental groups and public land advocates because it would slice through 320 acres of the state park's sensitive habitat and within eyesight of the famous Trestles Beach surf break.

"I used to surf down there at San Onofre in the early 1950s," Eastwood said. "I don't find the idea of putting a highway through a state park very appealing."

Public support for the project is strongest in south Orange County, where Interstate 5 is clogged by as many as 220,000 trips a day by motorists.

The state parkland, adjacent to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, is leased from the Department of the Navy, which controls the right of way. The parks commission has no authority to halt the project, but its rejection is politically significant.

Before construction can begin, the toll road must be approved by the California Coastal Commission. Some opponents of the project would like Lockyer to sue to halt it.

By pushing for the Friday resolution, opponents are hoping to move the debate to the governor's office, which has taken no public position on the project.

Schwarzenegger's brother-in-law, Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver, is the chairman of the state parks commission and one of the toll road's most strident opponents. Shriver was absent from the Friday meeting, leaving Eastwood, as vice chairman, in charge.

One of those urging the governor to take action was Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. "This road is such an offense to the state park system that it demands that we draw a line in the sand," Goldstein said.

Sierra Club representative Brittany McKee went to the meeting with 1,000 letters and postcards addressed to Schwarzenegger asking him to stop the project.

"Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger," one 9-year-old boy wrote, "please save Trestles so me and my brother can surf there when we are big."

Appearing at the Friday meeting, James Brown, Transportation Corridor Agencies' chief engineer, said the surfing spot would not be threatened by the toll road. "The project will be no closer to Trestles beach than the existing Interstate 5," he said. "Claims that the project will alter surfing conditions at Trestles are without foundation."

In all, six routes are under consideration. The three that go through San Onofre are among the more affordable and wouldn't require the bulldozing of homes and businesses.

A preferred route is scheduled to be selected in the months ahead.

Schwarzenegger is currently completing a trade tour in Asia. State Sen. Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine), a toll road supporter who is traveling with him, said he hoped to discuss the toll road with the governor during the trip.

"This road has been on the master plan for the county since the early 1980s," Ackerman said. "Those who claim it will destroy beach and parkland are crying wolf."

Brown said he had been encouraged by recent Schwarzenegger statements calling for a massive mix of public and private projects to rebuild California's infrastructure.

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