By Jake Howard
Not to be an alarmist or anything, but the way things stand right now, the future of both San Onofre and Trestles sure seems like it’s up in the air. For starters, the state’s lease with the Department of the Navy for the San Onofre State Park land expires in less than five years. That wouldn’t be so bad if talk of the 241 toll road hadn’t sparked up again. Needless to say, if you live and surf in South Orange County, hopefully you’re paying attention.
Let’s start with the lease for San Onofre. The short story is that in 1971, President Richard Nixon signed a deal with the state of California that turned the 3,000 acres that comprise San Onofre into State Park land. The lease is set to expire on Aug. 31, 2021. The San Onofre State Park butts up against the northern border of the U.S. Marine’s Camp Pendleton, and the two parties have already begun preliminary negotiations to hopefully renew the lease.
Today, San Onofre is one of the top five most visited state parks, drawing an estimated 2.5 million visitors per year. A number of economic impact studies have found that on average, a visitor to the beach in San Clemente will spend over $50 in town. You don’t need to be an economist to figure out that translates into a lot of dough. It also translates into a lot of happy people.
“California State Parks is interested in continuing to operate the land and will engage in a positive dialogue with the U.S. Marine Corps, using the five years leading up to the lease expiration productively, seeking to reach an agreement during that time,” read a letter that California State Parks sent to the Marine Corps Installations West.
Thus far, the military has not issued a comment on the subject. Given that the relationship has proven to be mutually beneficial for both parties over the course of the past 50 years, it is believed there will be a positive outcome, but it could take some time.
“This is not ‘Save Trestles.’ This is not ‘Save San Onofre.’ The only thing we got from them is that it probably won’t be resolved until the end,” said Steve Long, founder of the San Onofre Parks Foundation, former lifeguard of the State Park for 36 years and father of big-wave surfers Greg and Rusty Long. “We won’t have an answer this year. The Parks are stating our position—that (the beach) continues to be accessible to the public as it is today, hopefully.”
Things are considerably hairier when it comes to the reemergence of plans for the 241 toll road. After the plan was halted by decisions from the California Coastal Commission, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the San Clemente City Council and an army of upset locals, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) still isn’t taking no for an answer.
In September, TCA presented a new proposal to the San Clemente City Council. Then, in an effort to garner public support, earlier this month they hosted a public meeting in San Clemente to discuss the “virtues” of their new proposed routes. There are currently two options on the table that would impact Trestles directly. The first would extend the project through Avenida La Pata and connect to Avenida Pico. Another option would involve building the toll road around the eastern portions of San Clemente and then connecting to Cristianitos. The ultimate objective is to connect the 241, which ends at the Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano, to the I-5 south of town. Whatever plan is adopted, if any, it appears it would still cut right through the San Mateo State Park and the watershed that’s created the Trestles area.
For surfers and those that value open space, there can be some solace in knowing the Council’s initial reaction was tepid. “I feel like I’m on acid watching this. I mean look at it. This is crazy. Nobody in their right mind would want this to happen,” said Councilman Tim Brown.
It’s probably safe to assume that sentiment is shared by most of the surfers in the area. But even if your heart’s in the right place, complacency never got anybody anywhere. It took a massive, organized effort to defeat the toll road the first time, and it may take similar action to protect San Onofre and Trestles for the generations of surfers to come. At least now you’ve been warned.