By Mayor Pro Tem Tim Brown
In closed session during the Tuesday, July 18, City Council meeting, my colleagues and I made the unanimous decision to authorize our City Attorney to file a lawsuit against the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) and commence our legal battle to stop plans to build a toll road through San Clemente. How did we arrive at this critical decision?
In fall of 2016, the TCA officially abandoned plans to build the 241 toll road southern route that bypassed San Clemente and tied into Interstate 5 south of town. The decision to abandon this route came through the form of a settlement agreement with Save San Onofre Coalition (SSOC), a group comprised of environmental advocates and several regulatory agencies.
These groups sued to stop these alignments due to the environmental impacts on the San Mateo Creek and other coastal resources. This much-celebrated settlement was the result of several years of negotiation between the TCA leadership and the SSOC. It must be noted that at no point prior to the settlement agreement being announced to the public did TCA leadership see it fit to brief, advise or consult with anyone from the member agency most affected—the city of San Clemente.
Once the settlement became public, the residents and leaders of San Clemente learned that the litigants, SSOC, received a commitment from the TCA that they would forgo any alignments through the newly created “Avoidance Area” through San Mateo. SSOC was fully reimbursed for all of its legal expenses, and, when the toll road is constructed and connected to the I-5 through any other alignment, the SSOC will then be awarded a $28 million conservation fund for their environmental priorities. In return, the TCA received a commitment from the SSOC and its agencies that it would not oppose any future alignment, no matter where it was built and whom it affected.
The result of this self-inflicted settlement is that the TCA has forced itself into one of three alignments to connect the 241 to the I-5, and each of these alignments run right through San Clemente. Our new lawsuit will seek to set aside the effects of the misguided settlement that forces the toll road through our open space preserves and protected ridgelines and run in close proximity to community parks, schools, trails and homes.
Fortunately, our community is mobilizing in this fight to have our voices heard. I am grateful for San Clemente residents who have joined the City Council through vocal opposition, research and suggested alternative solutions. I am also grateful for the strong leadership of state and federal elected officials who have thrown in their support. We also extend a hand to any environmental advocates who wish to join us and who have chosen to have a voice. Simply because open space, sensitive habitats and ridgelines lie within our city limits and next to our homes does not mean it isn’t a part of the environment worth fighting for and preserving for future generations.
Simply put, the city’s lawsuit seeks to reset and broaden the process of solving South County transportation issues, and force the TCA out of the small corner it pinned itself to.
If you have questions or comments, please email me at email@example.com.
Tim Brown is a City Councilman in San Clemente. He was re-elected to City Council in 2014 and served as mayor during that year.