Questions and Answers for Jack Eidt with UC Santa Cruz student Sharon Sehee Lee.
Hi, my name is Sharon Lee and I'm a student at UCSC. For my Environmental issue paper I chose to write about
the issue the extension of the 241 toll road has on the
environment and on society. I chose to write about this
issue because it is a problem that affects my
hometown and the places I love to surf. For my
paper I decided to interview two people, one who's pro-extension and one
Hi Sharon. I do favor extending the 241 south into Rancho Mission Viejo, but there are smarter ways to spend $1 billion in transportation improvements that would optimize mobility in South OC and protect the San Mateo watershed, Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy, San Onofre State Park, and Trestles Beach.
For the record, I am an urban planner and co-founder of Wild Heritage Planners, an organization dedicated to smart growth and sustainable environmental and transportation planning. My cohorts and I are on the Stakeholders Committee for the South Orange County Major Investment Study conducted by the Orange County Transportation Authority that would program transportation investments into the next 25 years. We are quite vocal about a whole host of alternatives that would optimize mobility while preserving our most treasured wilderness and public beach, parkland, and campgrounds.
I will try to answer your questions below.
1. What is your favorite thing about Trestles? Do you
personally have a connection to it? Do you surf there?
Aside from the incredible beach, the mouth and estuary of San Mateo Creek is the most impressive thing about Trestles. The entire Southern California coast has been largely paved over, and wild public beaches are endangered from Malibu to Baja. I remember how Salt Creek used to have its sand dunes, and the latest victim was the Headlands at Dana Point.
Though I am not a great surfer, one of the first places I ever got on a long board was at SanO. I do, however, have a deep connection with the wilderness just inland of Trestles, as I have spent endless hours hiking the canyons and following the mule deer, and have spotted a number of mountain lions as well. I think it is amazing to have such a viable wilderness in such close proximity to urban areas, and given the scarcity of such coastal ecosystems, must be protected at all cost. As an urban planner I have learned a number of ways to protect these types of areas while still encouraging growth and development. Seeing as the San Mateo Watershed is the last free-flowing creek south of Ventura and north of Ensenada, it is worth fighting for, with Trestles Beach emblematic of the last wild public world-class surf spot left on our part of the coast.
2. Many local surfers are angry because they don't want
Trestles to become a tourist spot. Do you think extending
the toll road will attract a lot of people to Trestles?
Trestles is already a tourist spot, and San Onofre State Beach is the fifth most visited state park in the entire California system. People who want to find the beach will find it, and extending the 241 will have no measurable impact on that. What it would do is bring cars zooming at 50 to 70 mph on ramps flying over the coastal riparian estuary, and wastewater runoff would be dumped into the clean creeks, killing wildlife and poisoning the waves. I want to see more people coming to SanO to enjoy the beauty of the beach, campgrounds, hiking trails, and the amazing clean surf break. Building the 241 would deny millions for the rest of time of the wonderful beach and park that exists there, and again, one of the last healthy coastal sage-scrub-riparian habitats left in the state.
3. Many surfers believe the extension of the toll road
will effect the surf. Do you believe building so close to
the coast will affect the surf?
As I said above, water quality will be significantly downgraded by building a six lane road along Cristianitos and San Mateo Creeks. The TCA has made assertions about protecting the water quality, but let's face it, humans have not figured out a way to protect a pristine creek from development next to it. Catch basins might trap the pollutants, but they also trap sediment which replenishes and cleans the beach.
The surf break according to a number of studies would be affected from the redirection of the the natural flows of sediment from the creek. Once humans mess around with functioning hydrological systems and fragile habitats, we will never get back to the perfection that nature built into it. Efforts right now to reclaim the Los Angeles and Santa Ana River from flood control projects are underway; cement and rock channelization of fragile habitats and rampant pollution are indicative of how much money and effort will be necessary to reclaim what we plunder. A quick look at development along San Juan Creek (in South Orange County) that dumps into Doheny illustrates this as well. Doheny is consistently one of the most polluted beaches in the state and it is because of the development of Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, San Juan, Laguna Niguel, etc.
Also a review of TCAs past efforts to mitigate brake dust, oil, and dirt flowing into creeks along the 241 north and the 73 toll roads shows clogged and non-functioning filters and polluted creeks.
4. Do you think the locals are over reacting to the
extension of the toll road?
I think you can tell by my above comments that saving Trestles is worth the effort, and the fact that now we have thousands of people turning up at meetings is indicative that the majority of local residents and surf enthusiasts support our cause. As well, you will find a number of transportation advocates throughout the state who see the toll road-privatization movement as a detour to fulfilling the collective and very public needs of our transportation system.
When you invest $1 billion in a semi-private road that will cost $12 to $20 one-way it closes off possibilities to improve existing public transportation networks. Interstate 5 through San Clemente needs to be optimized, and enough right-of-way is owned by the State of California to widen the road two lanes in each direction. To improve the off- and on-ramps, Caltrans would have to employ a community-sensitive design, allowing for diamond ramps instead of prairie-style cloverleafs. The assertion that up to 1000 homes and business would be destroyed through such a widening is just typical bluster and fear-mongering. Smart Mobility has done a study recently that showed possibly 50 properties would be affected in such a widening. I worked on the Disneyland expansion that included widening the I-5 through Anaheim and that did include about 1000 homes and business taken. But here, the traffic requirements are much simpler requiring simple solutions.
Unfortunately, the non-compete clause that the bond-holders of the toll road require to ensure their investment legally preclude the funding, planning and construction of such a necessary widening. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has concluded that the Foothill-South would not relieve projected traffic congestion in Southern California. Traffic between San Diego-Mexico and Los Angeles will always follow the I-5. To create an artificial (political) bottleneck to send cars on an expensive road that goes to Yorba Linda is not a viable option. In particular, truck traffic growth over the next 30 years will make that part of the I-5 a complete mess.
5. Do you think extending the 241 will benefit the
community in any way?
6. How would it benefit the community?
As I said earlier, extending the 241 south through Rancho Mission Viejo and then sending it west to connect with the I-5 and the 73 Toll Road would have far-reaching benefits to the community. Unfortunately, the County of Orange has approved a 14,000 home development at RMV, and the majority of those new residents will be working in the west or north of the County. By creating a direct access for foothill communities to avoid the I-5 entirely, our existing roads would work far better. Such an extension will carry its own environmental costs which would have to be mitigated with tunneling, sound walls, and other measures, but I believe in this case one could argue the needs is significant enough to justify the impacts.
We do argue, however, that these roads should be freeways, not toll roads, because people don't want to pay the high tolls and as such, the roads go unused.
The cost and need for a 241 south of Ortega Highway becomes less important. Foothill communities will need to travel south, so extending Avenida La Pata-Antonio Parkway all the way to the I-5 at Cristianitos would provide this option. It would also create an alternative to the I-5 through San Clemente to be used in emergencies.
Destroying wilderness and state park resources to provide a private road connection
for the minimal amount of drivers to that area is a bad deal, and they will have
trouble meeting their demand projections because of the cost of tolls and the
circuitous route. When the 241 was originally envisioned, planners considered
an El Toro Airport as the main focus and demand generator for the road. As that
did not materialize, we can service the need of local traffic with well-planned
arterial improvements and building connections to the 241 that will reinforce
existing travel patterns.
7. If we start building toward the coast, what kind of
damage will it do to the ocean and the wild life
I already made a lot of assertions about environmental impacts... More below:
This project would require substantial grading of the terrain and millions of yards of hard reinforcement (steel, concrete and other materials), that will alter the natural sediment flow through San Mateo Creek, which supplies sand to the Trestles surf breaks.
The construction of the six-lane Toll Road would devastate the nearly pristine sub-watersheds in the lower reaches of the Creek with massive amounts of paving and land disturbance, altering natural sediment flows upon which the beach's superior wave formations depend. According to hydrology experts, TCA failed to adequately consider changes to sediment conditions that could have "significant impacts at various local and regional scales, and possibly alter the morphology of Trestles (and its surfing characteristics), as well as result in water quality impacts."
As well, according to the Transportation Corridor Agency's own engineering consultants, losses in sedimentation flow would cause "substantial degradation to surfing resources," which will likely result in significant degradation to the wave quality at Lower Trestles and nearby breaks (including Uppers, Middles, Cottons and Church).
A recent scientific report demonstrates that when over 10 percent of a watershed is paved there are significant water quality and ecosystem impacts. Similar projects have resulted in generating significant increases of oils, heavy metals and other toxins. Given the proximity of the project to the watershed, this project would result in a decrease of water quality for Trestles and the surrounding breaks. The TCA's assertion that they can mitigate for this run-off is dubious. The initial mitigation systems that were installed on the nearby SR73 Toll Road failed, and had to be replaced at tax-payer expense. All mitigation efforts are ineffective during large rain events.
Ecosystem and Habitat Impacts.
The area is home to numerous native plant and animal species, including eleven that are endangered and threatened. The road would fragment and degrade habitat within the park at San Onofre for the steelhead trout, arroyo toad, California gnatcatcher, Least Bell's vireo, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Riverside fairy shrimp, San Diego fairy shrimp, snowy plover, Pacific pocket mouse, thread-leaved brodiaea, and tidewater goby. TCA nevertheless approved the project without identifying if, when or where it would acquire new replacement habitat for these species, relying instead on lands that have already been set aside as mitigation for other projects. This area would be profoundly impacted by such a massive project essentially cutting the San Mateo Creek watershed in half.
The California Parks Department has concluded that the toll road would become the dominant feature of the inland portion of the park and would likely force them to abandon nearly 60% of the park. No park can thrive with a six-lane super highway running through its center, and San Onofre State Beach is no exception. The project would place a 6-lane highway down the center of the 1,200-acre inland portion of the Park, essentially splitting the park along its spine. The Toll Road's direct footprint alone would occupy approximately four miles and over 320 acres of the park. Much of the remainder would be fragmented and unusable as a park. The California Parks Department – in a study commissioned by TCA itself – concluded that it would likely be forced to abandon nearly 60% of the park, over 1,000 acres. This includes the park's entire inland subunit, its most popular campground, and trails that lead to Trestles Beach.
If the toll road is built, all 161 sites in San Mateo Campground will be unusable as recreational areas and likely shut down. According to the California Parks Department, the Foothill-South would be built so close to the campground – within 200 feet – that it will likely cause abandonment of all 161 campsites. As the Parks Department stated, "It does not take an expert to understand that locating a multi-lane, limited access highway within a few hundred feet of a secluded campground will so destroy the recreational value of the campground and sense of place as to render it valueless." San Mateo Creek campers who now enjoy a quiet unobstructed hillside wilderness experience would find themselves below a massive concrete soundwall that would irrevocably destroy the sense of place and only partially block the traffic sounds that visitors are trying to escape by visiting the Park.
President Nixon, Governor Reagan, and the California Legislature have all made clear that San Onofre is to forever remain a state park. When President Nixon presided over the creation the state park at San Onofre, he declared that, as soon as it is possible for the federal government to declare the property surplus, the lease will be terminated and the property "will be deeded to the State of California for park purposes." Governor Reagan agreed: "This expanse of acreage, San Onofre Bluffs [sic] State Beach, now has its future guaranteed as an official state park." The intent to permanently preserve the land as a park is reflected in California law, which provides that "if the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in the County of San Diego ceases to be used as a federal facility, it shall be converted to an open-space area or greenbelt that shall be administered by the [Parks] [D]epartment." State law further provides that "[a]ll real property acquired for park and recreation purposes by the state which was formerly part of Camp Pendleton shall be used solely for park and recreation purposes and no part thereof shall be declared surplus or disposed of."
8.If the roads are built, is there anything we can do to
prevent any runoff or waste from getting into the ocean?
Building super-highways does not, never has, and never will enhance water quality. The State Water Board has recognized highways as a leading source of stormwater pollution across the State. The Foothill-South would accommodate thousands of automobiles every day that release oil, grease, heavy metals, and other toxins into the watershed. TCA nevertheless claims the Foothill-South would "improve" existing water quality by adding detention basins to portions of I-5 that currently lack them. But these improvements are not a unique component of the Foothill-South project; they could and should have been incorporated into any of the alternatives to the Toll Road. And stormwater control measures can at best reduce polluted highway runoff, not eliminate it. Constructing a new six-lane highway in a nearly pristine watershed will have far greater impacts to water quality than alternatives focused on improving existing roads.
9. There are so many "problems" that come along with the extension of the toll road. Do the pros out weigh the cons?
As I have already stated, OCTA has concluded that the Foothill-South would not meaningfully relieve projected traffic congestion in Southern California. So why spend $1 billion to obliterate one of our last wild coastal watersheds and one of the most popular state parks as well as polluting and degrading a world class surf break for that?
10. Does the extension of the 241 affect you? In what way?
It is vitally important for me to use my professional expertise to recommend smart alternatives that optimize regional and local transportation solutions while protecting our coastal, public recreational, and environmental resources. So we will continue to speak out until this project is stopped in favor of smarter solutions.
If you have any further questions, please call me.
Director of Planning
Wild Heritage Planners