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By Shawn Raymundo
A Riverside County judge will dismiss the city of San Clemente’s lawsuit against the Transportation Corridor Agencies after finding that the city’s objections to the previously proposed and abandoned 241 Toll Road extensions were moot.
With such proposals to extend the 241 through the town no longer under consideration by the TCA, the court tentatively ruled that the city couldn’t provide evidence showing that the toll road operators would complete the thoroughfare’s southern alignment via San Clemente.
“The city provides no evidence to suggest that (the Foothill/Eastern TCA) may entertain a further southern extension of SR-241 that would traverse the City of San Clemente,” the tentative ruling stated, which added that the city’s motion “is now moot in light of F/ETCA’s abandonment of any alternative that provides for an extension of SR-241.”
In a word, the court’s ruling was “disappointing,” said City Attorney Scott Smith, who added on Thursday, Aug. 12, that he would go over next steps with the city council during its upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17.
In a prepared statement from the TCA, CEO Samuel Johnson said that the agencies’ Foothill/Eastern arm was confident the court would rule in their favor. He went on to also state that the TCA worked to find “common ground” with the city.
“We tried working with the city to find common ground and obtain an out-of-court solution that would save time and San Clemente taxpayer dollars,” Johnson said. “We tried to make putting the concluded study in the rearview mirror a win-win for both the F/ETCA and San Clemente, but they weren’t interested, and now the courts have told them they were wrong to pursue the litigation.”
By dismissing the case, the judge is also ruling against the city’s challenge to the ongoing collection of development impact fees (DIFs), which local developers pay to the city and are remitted to the TCA. The court ruled that because the developers are the parties who pay the fees, and not the city, the city lacked the standing to bring forth the challenge.
For the past several months, the city, which is no longer a member on either of the TCA’s governing boards, has questioned the DIFs as San Clemente’s residents haven’t benefited from a toll road because the TCA never completed its southern alignment.
Since 2017, the city had sought a determination from the court that the TCA and the state transportation department were barred from ever extending the 241 through San Clemente based on its interpretation of statute in California’s Streets & Highways Code.
However, in her ruling following a July 30 court hearing, Judge Sunshine Sykes found that the city’s motion for relief was “based upon a future event that might never occur” and “a hypothetical state of facts.”
“At the time that the City asserted its cause of action for declaratory relief, an expansion of SR-241 through the City of San Clemente was merely one of many possible routes under consideration,” the ruling stated. “There had been no environmental studies, no approval of any project—let alone one that did no comply with the City’s interpretation (of the Highways code).”
That law stipulates that the 241 travel from the 5 Freeway, south of San Clemente, to Route 91, in the City of Anaheim. Based on the law, the city has argued that any route extension connecting the 241 to I-5 via San Clemente would go against the legislatively intended route of the toll road.
In 2016, the TCA abandoned its plans to complete the southern alignment of the 241—a connection also referred to as the “green alignment”—after reaching a settlement agreement with environmental groups that contested it.
Under the 2016 settlement agreement, the TCA agreed not to build the 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 to complete the extension.
Some of those proposals, looked at having the 241 cut through portions of San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, leading the city to challenge the settlement by filing suit against the TCA in 2017.
In March 2020 though, the F/ETCA Board of Directors unanimously voted to abandon the hotly contested extension proposals, and instead proceed with plans of extending Los Patrones Parkway in Rancho Mission Viejo further south, ending at the San Clemente city limit on Avenida La Pata.
The Parkway begins, in the north, at Oso Parkway—where the 241 presently ends—and stretches for roughly 5 miles to Cow Camp Road. In recent months, TCA officials have stressed that there’s no plans to build a toll road within San Clemente.
Despite those claims, local officials have remained skeptical of the TCA, believing the agencies in the future could attempt to turn Los Patrones into a toll road that connects to I-5 via San Clemente.
Citing the abandoned extension proposals and the current Los Patrones project as an alternative, Sykes in her ruling noted that there wasn’t enough factual context that would allow for a “judicial resolution,” and later stated that the city’s motion for judgement is moot.
The “F/ETCA has not communicated any intention to approve an extension of SR-241 that would run through the City of San Clemente in the future,” the ruling said. “As such—and in the absence of a specific factual context—the issues presented by the (city’s motion) are not sufficiently concrete to allow judicial resolution.”
The city council will convene its closed session meeting on Tuesday at 5 p.m. The public session of the regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the San Clemente Community Center. The meeting can also be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
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.