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By Shawn Raymundo
The city of San Clemente effectively got its wish of securing a seat at the planning table for Los Patrones Parkway’s extension, as the city council last week agreed to work cooperatively with the County of Orange and the neighboring community of Rancho Mission Viejo.
The council on Dec. 15 voted unanimously to enter into a cooperative agreement with the county and The Ranch, acknowledging that the design plans for the free, county-operated arterial route will not include considerations to develop the controversial extension of the 241 Toll Road.
“The development agreement is an excellent step forward,” Councilmember Steven Knoblock said during the meeting. “Hopefully, it reflects a universal opinion that the 241 won’t be built and that by putting in the design criteria, hopefully this will put a straitjacket on the roadway so that it can never be at toll road.”
Mike Balsamo, senior vice president of governmental relations for The Ranch and one of three RMV officials included in the council’s discussion, echoed Knoblock’s sentiments, stating that the agreement will lead to further dialogue between the city and county.
“I think this first step of partnership with the city is a good lead-in for further dialogue about what the ultimate road will look like,” he said.
Along with the agreement, the council also voted to initiate a General Plan amendment that would incorporate the extension of Los Patrones, which begins where the 241 ends and currently runs through The Ranch. The road is planned to eventually connect to La Pata, stretching roughly 700 feet past the San Clemente city limits.
The agreement puts in place a series of “key assumptions” meant to ensure that the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ abandoned proposals to extend the 241 through San Clemente and parts of San Juan Capistrano can never be revived.
One assumption includes the agreement between the city, county and The Ranch that Los Patrones will differ from a toll road, or freeway, “in terms of their design, speed, capacity, purpose, utility, ownership, and environmental impacts.”
The agreement comes as the county recently began the process of amending its General Plan to include an extended Los Patrones Parkway. The County Board of Supervisors is also expected to meet in early January to approve the extension as an amendment in the MPAH, or Master Plan of Arterial Highways.
“The project is proceeding; it’s set to proceed through the county decision-making … over the course of this winter,” City Attorney Scott Smith explained to the council. “This agreement allows the city and the county to lock in on those key assumptions as this process takes place.”
Mayor Pro Tem Gene James acknowledged the city’s limited role in the overall planning process, noting that a road, ending at La Pata, will be constructed as The Ranch moves ahead with its planning areas and continues to grow.
“With that being said, it’s going to impact 700 feet into San Clemente. I really don’t care what it looks like from the perspective from Cow Camp; I really don’t care what it looks like going over the Ortega (Highway),” James said. “What I do care about is when it comes out of Planning Area 5, which will be about a mile from La Pata, what the design is going to look like.”
Currently, Los Patrones runs between Oso Parkway in the north to Cow Camp Road in RMV. Once the extension is completed, about 700 feet of Los Patrones will enter San Clemente past the city limits.
“If that design looks like the current Los Patrones Parkway, I’ll have problems getting behind that. If that design looks more like La Pata or Antonio (Parkway), I could get behind that,” James continued.
Responding to James, Balsamo noted that based on the traffic volumes anticipated, “There will have to be a certain amount of substance to the facility to relieve traffic in South Orange County.”
But he continued to state that the plan is to “make the footprint of the road as limited as possible” in order to minimize “the impact on our developable land in Planning Area 5,” as well as the Prima Deschecha Landfill.
“So, I think we’re incentivized to build this sort of gentler facility, if possible,” Balsamo said. “Of course, that’s got to meet the utility as well.”
Jeff Thompson, senior vice president of capital projects for RMV, explained that the connection of Los Patrones to La Pata is estimated to have an average daily traffic (ADT) of about 22,000 vehicles.
He further emphasized that the extension will not include certain right-of-way elements that the current parkway has going through the village of Esencia in RMV, nor do officials from The Ranch want the parkway to have significant elements typically found on transportation corridors.
“What you see in Los Patrones Parkway going into Esencia, that was right-of-way that had to be dedicated. It was required of Rancho Mission Viejo back at the time of our development agreement,” Thompson explained. “That is not what is proposed for this roadway extension. It’s the gentler roadway following an arterial highway designation, which is much more sleek.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.