Walter Mencken 2 p.m., May 28
Save San Onofre Coalition accuses transportation agency of trying to resurrect a plan to build a toll road to Trestles
Group files two lawsuits in San Diego Superior Court against the Transportation Corridor Agency
The Save San Onofre Coalition, a coalition comprised of basically every environmental advocacy group in California, is accusing the Transportation Corridor Agency of moving forward with plans to build a controversial 16-mile expressway through Orange County and North San Diego County with its terminus at popular San Onofre State Beach, home to one of Southern California's premier surf breaks, Trestles.
They are doing so, according to a lawsuit filed on May 21, one 5-mile stretch at a time.
The first 5-mile segment, dubbed the Tesoro Extension, would add to the current 241 Toll Road from Oso Parkway in Mission Viejo to Cow Camp Road, just north of Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano.
In their lawsuit, organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, California State Parks Foundation, Endangered Habitats League, and Sierra Club, among others, claim the Tesoro Extension is a last ditch effort to bring back the 241 Toll Road from the dead after California's Coastal Commissioners and federal officials killed the proposal back in 2008.
The Transportation Corridor Agency, tasked with planning, funding, and constructing toll roads in California, believes the Tesoro Extension "will provide additional northern access for communities located inland of I-5 and commuters traveling to Orange County business centers from the Inland Empire via Ortega Highway. It provides an important alternative route to I-5."
But the agency is using environmental reports from back in 2006, the same reports used for the 241 Toll Road. That, claims the coalition, is a violation in itself.
From the lawsuit:
To the extent [Transportation Corridor Agency] asserts that the Tesoro Extension may be treated as a project separate from the Foothill-South and environmental review limited to the impacts of the Tesoro Extension alone, such approach constitutes improper segmentation under CEQA. CEQA requires that the whole of a project be analyzed, from start to f,rnish, before any initial approvals are made. [Transportation Corridor Agency] has consistently stated that it intends to construct the entirety of the Foothill-South and that the Tesoro Extension is simply the first segment of the Foothill-South. [Transportation Corridor Agency's] failure to adequately analyze the impacts of the Foothill-South project as a whole-including impacts not previously analyzed due to new information, changed circumstances, and changes to the project-violates CEQA.
"The [Transportation Corridor Agency] 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.”
On June 19, representatives from the Transportation Corridor Agency will seek approval for the 5.5 mile Tesoro Extension from the San Diego County Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Members of the Save San Onofre Coalition vow to continue their fight against the Toll Road, even if that means they must do so one file-mile stretch at a time.
Added Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Damon Nagami, “The turnout to the hearings in 2008 was historic. 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.”
Officials from the Transportation Corridor Agency failed to respond in time for publication.