By Shawn Raymundo
A judge in Riverside County last month denied the city of San Clemente and a homeowners association’s motion to stop the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) from considering alternative routes to extend the 241 Toll Road after the initial plan to build the extension south of San Clemente was officially blocked in 2016.
The TCA, according to the Jan. 28 ruling, “may elect not to proceed with the extension, may select an alternative to the extension, and may condition the construction and operation of the extension in whatever manner that is consistent with the law.”
According to City Attorney Scott Smith, the court only denied the city and The Reserve Maintenance Corporation’s joint motion for preliminary judgment on certain elements of their lawsuit, which challenges a 2016 settlement agreement between the TCA and various environmental groups.
“There’s no ultimate outcome on the case, per se,” Smith explained during the city council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18. “Those are just pre-trial motions where the court was just asked to decide as a matter of law in our favor and the court declined to do that, leaving the issues open for argument, as the court (hearing) is set for next month.”
In an emailed statement from the TCA, the agencies said they were pleased with “the court’s ruling on these key issues and look forward to completely resolving this litigation going forward.”
Under the 2016 settlement agreement, the TCA agreed not to build a 241 Toll Road extension through the San Mateo Watershed and Trestles. As a result of that agreement, the TCA and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began examining a variety of proposals for the 241 to connect to Interstate 5. Some of those proposals, which are currently being narrowed, would cut through San Clemente.
The city and The Reserve had filed separate lawsuits against the TCA in August 2017, challenging the settlement and alleging the agreement was made without an environmental review or public input.
The city’s lawsuit had also alleged that any route extension connecting the 241 to the I-5 via San Clemente would go against the legislatively intended route of the toll road per the Streets and Highways Code section 541.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia stated in his ruling that the settlement agreement didn’t preclude the agencies from pursuing other route options, nor did it commit the TCA to any particular route extension.
“The settlement agreement leaves (the TCA) free to pursue multiple feasible options for completing the subject State Route 241 (“SR-241”) extension project which could be identified, evaluated, and potentially advanced in a manner consistent with the laws that apply and which meet the transportation needs of the (TCA),” the ruling stated.
Addressing the city’s argument on the legislative intent, Ottolia noted that the section of the law states: “Route 241 is from Route 5 south of San Clemente to Route 91 in the City of Anaheim.”
“There’s no requirement or language in the statute that the road bypass San Clemente or that it intersect Interstate 5 south of San Clemente,” the judge stated.
Ottolia later addressed the city and the HOA’s argument that a separate March 2017 protective agreement between the environmental groups, the TCA and Caltrans was illegal and invalid because only Michael Kraman, the TCA’s chief executive, signed it, and without the approval of the TCA’s board.
The judge found that when the TCA Board approved the 2016 settlement, it had also given Kraman the authorization to enter into the 2017 protective agreement—which had also been a term of the settlement that the board approved in a 10-2 vote.
Councilmember Kathy Ward—then-mayor of San Clemente and liaison to the TCA—and former San Juan Capistrano Councilmember Kerry Ferguson voted against the 2016 settlement agreement, San Clemente Times previously reported.
According to the Riverside County Court, hearings for the case are scheduled for March 12 and April 15.
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.