The April 18 Transportation Corridor Agencies meeting that revived the Trestles toll road plan was scheduled on short notice, held without notifying interested parties, and rubber-stamped at a meeting in Orange County.
To the Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider, the message is clear: the Orange County toll road designed to end at the I-5 by cutting through San Onofre State Park is alive again. This time, the Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies is going at it in segments, starting with the five-mile segment from Oso Parkway to Cow Camp Road, just north of the Ortega Highway, and calling it “the Tesoro Extension.”
But, since the agencies are using the same plans and environmental reports that were rejected by the California Coastal Commission and (on appeal) the Bush administration in 2008, Surfrider policy manager Stefanie Sekich-Quinn says the plan is obvious.
"It's a desperate attempt to push the road through quietly because they know the public hates it," Sekich-Quinn said. "They are giving us a very technical explanation for why they held a special meeting to approve their old documents, but they did it to avoid public involvement."
Sekich-Quinn and the Natural Resources Defense Council found out about the noon April 18 meeting too late to make the trip to Irvine but attended a normally scheduled and noticed meeting the next day. (The April 18 meeting was called on less than 48 hours notice under the definition of a “special” meeting.) During the general public comment period at the regularly scheduled meeting the following day, Sekich-Quinn protested the previous day’s meeting's short notice and the topic itself; she said she was met with blank stares from the dozen or so board members who ate while she spoke.
"It's totally unacceptable not to have public input on this issue, especially after thousands of people let you know they are opposed to this project," Sekich-Quinn said. "Maintain the promises you've been making for public involvement."
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s attorney called the approval and meeting "outrageous," pointing out that the TCA’s finances are under investigation by the state attorney general and a conservative think tank.
Transportation Corridor Agencies board members wouldn't comment on the Tesoro Extension vote, but the organization released a written statement that reads: "This meeting was necessary because the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board had informed TCA that before a decision could be made for the Waste Discharge Requirement permit for the project, the TCA board would need to vote on the California Environmental Quality Act addendum to the Environmental Impact Report.
“The board approved the conceptual design of the 241 Tesoro Extension with the understanding that the board will consider several other actions on the project in the future. This is not the final decision on the project. The plan remains that in the coming months, there will be a public forum meeting in which the public will be encouraged to participate and provide comments. Additionally, the Environmental Assessment for the project will be circulated by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, which will also include a public comment period. All comments received during this period will receive a response."
"We're going to do everything we can to make sure the public is involved," Sekich-Quinn said. "But as far as we're concerned, this means they're coming back with the toll road again, this time in segments."