By City Council Member Lori Donchak
In the 1920s, San Clemente founder Ole Hanson envisioned a town that preserved the natural beauty and tranquility of San Clemente’s rolling hills and ocean breezes. He said, “I am going to build a beautiful city on the ocean where the whole city will be one great park.” Since incorporation in 1928, the city has carefully and consistently planned development to align with Hanson’s vision. The city strives to preserve environmental interests essential to our quality of life and our “Spanish Village by the Sea” identity.
Did you know that open space comprises 50 percent of our town, and that this is by design? Our open space includes Ole Hanson’s rolling hills, nature preserves, coastal canyons, beaches, trails, parks, playgrounds and golf courses. Environmental groups, community members and city staff have a rich and long history of pulling together to protect our natural habitat, the sanctuary for deer, coyote, bobcats, roadrunners, mountain lions, red-shouldered hawks and barn owls and a full complement of local plants like Coulter’s Saltbush, Indian Paintbrush, Coastal Sage Scrub and more.
Fast forward to 2008. It’s hard to believe almost 10 years have passed since we residents approved the San Clemente Open Space Ordinance to protect our community from over-development. Today, the ordinance, referred to as Measure V, gives us the right to vote on proposed changes in the permitted use of open-space lands. An overwhelming 72 percent of us voted in favor of Measure V. In a town where diverse views are common, a super majority rallied around the need to preserve and cherish our open space, and to stand up and fight for it when it might be threatened.
In that spirit, a toll road—or any new road for that matter—plays no role in San Clemente’s long-term commitment to our founder’s vision if it cuts through or compromises our open space. As the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) contemplates ways to connect the 241 Toll Road to the Interstate 5 freeway, we must be clear that degrading San Clemente open space is not an option. Open spaces knit our neighborhoods together. Open spaces benefit our air quality. Open spaces—whether original ranchlands or pristine beaches—are the foundation and the essence of San Clemente.
It’s unthinkable that there are possible alignments intended to override the vote of the people. More can be done to solve transportation issues in lieu of a toll road. Because of this, my fellow Council members and I have engaged traffic consultants to help develop ideas that will use surface streets and multi-modal transportation tools to address anticipated
South Orange County traffic needs. La Pata is an excellent example of a situation where a road connection improved mobility without degrading communities or harming protected open space, and there are more projects we can do through similar participation in regional transportation planning.
Often I hear from residents asking, “What can I do?” Become educated on this issue and have a voice in South Orange County transportation solutions. Make time to attend TCA and City Council meetings, and/or write your elected representatives on the state, county and federal levels. This information is available at www.san-clemente.org/about-us/city-news/toll-road-information.
Please join me on a “Toll Road Trek” from 9-10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Forster Ridgeline Trail. We seek to help citizens learn more about the impact of the alignments being studied by the TCA. A naturalist will be on hand to point out some of our natural gems. Meet at the trailhead at Avenida La Pata and Camino Del Rio and park on Camino Del Rio in Forster Ranch.
Carpool if you can. This can be a strenuous hike (2.5 miles with hills on a dirt trail) so bring a water bottle and a hat and wear sturdy, close-toed shoes. Dogs on leashes are welcome. I hope to see you there.
As always, please email me your questions or comments at email@example.com.
Lori Donchak was re-elected to City Council in 2014 and is a city member of the Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors, as well as the city’s liaison to San Clemente’s Orange County Library.