By Jim Shilander
The effort to make Trestles a historic landmark has moved to the federal level. Surfrider Foundation Coastline Preservation Manager Mark Rauscher said the application to place Trestles on the National Registry of Historic Places had been received by the Keeper of the Registry for final determination as to whether one of the San Clemente area’s most well known surf beaches will be included in the Registry. Surfrider seriously initiated the effort after the failure of the proposed 241 Toll Road extension to Trestles in 2008.
The application was approved by the State Historical Resources Commission unanimously at its meeting in Sacramento February 8.
Among those speaking in opposition to the proposal at that meeting were the Department of the Navy, specifically, the Marine Corps, which uses the beaches near Trestles for training. The Marines actually own San Onofre State Park, which Trestles became a part of in 1971, and the park is leased to the state under an agreement made in 1970. The $1 lease expires in 2020.
The State Parks Department has no official position on the proposal.
Col. Eugene Apicella of Marine Corps Installations West/Base Camp Pendleton said the Navy’s own Preservation Office examined the proposed designation last year and rejected it.
A Department of the Navy document sent to the state Historical Preservation Office indicated that the Navy Office believed that Trestles failed to meet two important criteria for inclusion on the list, specifically one of unique historical significance. “Properties listed in the National Register must possess significance when evaluated in the perspective of their historic context. Once the historic context is established and the property type is determined, it is not necessary to evaluate the property in question against other properties if: It is the sole example of a property type that is important in illustrating the historic context, or it clearly possesses the defined characteristics required to be strongly representative of the context.”
“Trestles is not the sole example—or even the best example—of a property type important in illustrating the historic context of surfing in the United States,” Donald Schregardus, the Navy’s Federal Preservation Officer wrote. “There are many sources that report top surfing beaches in the United States; each one with its legion of supporters for the status of most significant. The Surfrider Foundation reports that there are 648 well-known surfing spots in California alone including Huntington Beach, known as “Surf City USA,” (Santa Cruz makes the same claim) with a nearly 100-year tradition as a top surfing beach and Blacks Beach (also in San Diego County). The North shore of Oahu and Cape Hatteras are non-California beaches typically listed among the top 10 surfing locations both for the unspoiled nature of the setting as well as the surf wave quality. Trestles, on the other hand, while considered a good surfing location (and mentioned in the Beach Boys’ song “Surfin’ USA,”) is listed without any reference to national uniqueness and appears to be just one of hundreds of such relative nondescript good surfing beaches around the U.S.”
Apicella said a major concern for the Corps about the designation was potentially having to consult the state and other stakeholders to schedule training exercises.
“It takes the determination out of the Department of the Navy’s hands,” Apicella said. As owner of the property, the Marines could conduct exercises there, but noted that the department could be subject to litigation if damage was done to the historic property, especially if training was done over the objection of stakeholders.
He also noted that the importance of these sorts of training exercises would be of increased importance in the coming years, as the Department of Defense has publicly stated that it is shifting its strategic focus to the Pacific in the coming decades, potentially increasing the importance of preparation for amphibious operations.
Apicella also said the Department of Defense would also be concerned about the potential for its own historic resource officers to be overruled in their determinations. He also noted that the Marines are currently the stewards of more than 28,000 acres of protected lands on Camp Pendleton, and was dedicated to protecting the surf zone at Trestles as much for the Corps’ own purposes.
Apicella noted that he saw no reason to change the current arrangement.
“Everybody is getting to do what they want to do right now, and we coexist peacefully,” he said. He noted the number of Marines, both retired and currently enlisted, who enjoyed surfing at Trestles themselves.
Schregardus also stated as much in a letter to the Historic Preservation Office.
“Even though the area does not satisfy the requisite eligibility criteria, the Department of the Navy continues to support the shared use of the Trestles beach. Please be assured the Department of the Navy remains willing to continue to work cooperatively with the State Historic Preservation Office and other interested parties to ensure the beach remains a viable resource for use by surfers, non-surfers and the Marines.”
The Keeper’s process for determining whether or not Trestles will be placed on the registry is expected to take three to five months.
Apicella said a potential exercise at the beach from mid-June to early-July was in the planning stages, which may necessitate having to close at least a portion of the beach to the public.