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By San Clemente Mayor Gene James
Let’s take a moment and remember the relief we felt just last year, when thanks to concerned citizens and after years of fighting, we finally reached a point that the 241Toll Road had been beaten back as a looming threat; however, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) will always want to pose a threat to our Spanish Village.
It is imperative we keep a close eye on political contributions from out-of-town interests this year who are hell-bent on doubling down on their influence on the San Clemente City Council and renewing the prospect of a toll road in order to pursue their own greed.
Our City Council unanimously approved the Cooperative Agreement in September 2021 with the Orange County Transportation Authority and the County of Orange, while the TCA and their high-priced attorneys refused to bargain in good faith; not to my surprise, the TCA ultimately refused to participate.
The agreement memorialized three projects. The first is a county project to extend Los Patrones Parkway as a primary arterial to connect with Avenida La Pata. Because Los Patrones will connect at the border of our city, we are closely watching the design of this project.
The second project led by Caltrans is removing a bottleneck on Ortega Highway.
The third project, led by OCTA and Caltrans, is looking to extend the carpool lane on both sides of the freeway between Avenida Pico and the county line. This is the continuation of one carpool lane in each direction.
All three of these projects appear to be reasonable, and none of them includes tolls, and the TCA has been dealt out of the equation on each project.
For the proposed no-toll carpool lane between Pico and county line, we are at the very beginning of the process. OCTA and Caltrans recently ended the initial public-comment period for what’s called the Project Scoping Phase.
This is a first step to determine what concerns people have and what should be studied in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The EIR will look at two alternatives: a no-build option and the single carpool lane extension in each direction.
There are questions we all want answered, and I will demand they are addressed. What are the right-of-way impacts? What about noise during and after construction? Where will sound and retaining walls be built? Will home values be impacted?
These are unknowns at this point, but we will get the answers as the process advances. To be clear, I will oppose any widening of the I-5 that involves eminent domain, increased noise levels or impacts the values of homes.
The Cooperative Agreement with OCTA and Orange County requires our cooperation with OCTA’s Multimodal Transportation Study, but only within reason. I am confident we can work with OCTA and Caltrans, which is not something we can do with the ever-plotting directors and management at the TCA.
Our partnership with OCTA and Caltrans is a solution meant to keep the crony-capitalists at the TCA who plot harm against our city from achieving their self-serving greedy goal of a toll road through San Clemente.
I will not trade one terrible idea for another; too much is owed for those who over the years successfully fought the Toll Road battle.
Gene James is a councilmember who was elected in 2019, reelected in 2020 and is serving as the mayor for 2022.