Laura Ferguson, San Clemente 

The Save San Onofre Coalition’s (SSOC) advertisements in the San Clemente Times remind us of their great compromise with the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) and sellout of San Clemente. The 12 elite environmental groups that comprise SSOC entered into a $28 million settlement agreement with the TCA and continue to use diversionary tactics while residents worry about their quality of life, wildlife, open space, home values and schools in the path of a proposed toll road.

The SSOC advertisements tug at the heartstrings of residents who equally cherish the environment. Many rallied alongside SSOC to help prevent the loss of waves at Trestles, preserve the watershed at San Mateo and protect the state parkland, yet along the way, the SSOC decided that a toll road through the park would have a graver impact than a toll road through the heart of San Clemente. What good is the protection of the park if the consequence is the destruction of an established town?

Why does the SSOC think their avoidance area is more important than San Clemente’s dedicated open space? These elite environmental groups’ stance on what they perceive as the only important natural resources endanger the quality of life for all of San Clemente.

The SSOC took advantage of San Clemente and continues to do so with its misleading advertisements. If they cared about San Clemente, they never would have agreed to forego opposing TCA toll road proposals outside the avoidance area. Instead, they would also ask the TCA to reopen the settlement agreement and include San Clemente’s and the HOAs’ natural resources in the designated avoidance area.

The sad truth is the SSOC did not have to enter into a settlement agreement to protect the natural resources they fought to save because multiple government agencies already killed the preferred TCA route. Their actions were greedy and selfish, and in doing so, the TCA bought off and eliminated a major obstacle.

These environmental groups wield great influence—influence that is no longer available to San Clemente—and what they have done is the truest form of capitalism.

About The Author Staff

comments (5)

  • The continually resurfacing narrative that this settlement involved a $28 million payout is patently untrue. That $28 million is held by the TCA for mitigation and conservation purposes. Per the settlement, none of that money ever goes to SSOC or any of its member organizations.

    SSOC fought for 15 years to protect the last undammed coastal watershed in Southern California. We finally found a path to settling lawsuits that were very expensive and laborious to pursue, and we made the best deal we could to protect the areas we set out to protect.

    Nothing in the settlement does anything to facilitate a TCA project through San Clemente, nor does it do anything to preclude the residents of San Clemente from opposing such a project. And the San Clemente City Council and Reserve lawsuits against the SSOC do nothing to prevent any project that could be built through San Clemente. What the San Clemente City Council and Reserve lawsuits are accomplishing is to waste those institutions’ resources in efforts to un-protect the avoidance area rather than using residents’ taxes and HOA fees to protect the city.

  • The settlement acknowledges that a “post settlement alignment” would likely be located within the San Mateo Watershed. It also stipulates that the 28 million dollars would be spent to mitigate this impact-⎌and establishes a commission that includes SSOC as part of the decision making process for expenditure of the funds. The money would not be spent unless a Toll Road is built through the watershed. Everything in this agreement, which I have read, points to a Toll Road through San Clemente and even establishes a expiration timeframe for the expenditure of the funds (2021). Section 1.9 states that a post settlement alignment will be “consistent with the Project goals” (one of which has always been making a connection to the 5 as far south to the county line as possible), “connect to the 5”, and not be located within or impact the avoidance area. The only approach that satisfies these criteria is slicing right through established San Clemente. In fact it’s a poorly guarded secret that #14 is the preferred TCA alignment and has been for years after it was clear the “Green” alignment wouldn’t happen. It’s inconceivable that the SSOC wasn’t aware of this when the settlement was reached given the language of the agreement and the fact that the TCA hasn’t exactly hidden their desire to destroy our town. The SSOC – TCA settlement was designed to sacrifice San Clemente at the expense of saving the park and (partially) the watershed. As the author points out it was unnecessary -⎌ the road had no chance of being built as previously proposed. No amount of spin changes these basic facts.

  • It is concerning to me to see that the environmental groups that stepped up to fight the TCA on the last round fro 10 years and won and got the only proposed route of the time killed. That route is the only route on the legislative map taken off. The TCA is done. 10 environmental groups stepped up to protect SC, the State Park and Trestles last time when the TCA had the insane notion of a toll road through our beautiful state park. A plan that the TCA could not obtain the necessary permits to construct or permissions needed based on the environmental destructiveness of the plan. They tried to piecemeal the project and do segmented CEQA which is illegal – they continue to try and do that today. 78 percent of OC residents last time did not approve of a toll road cutting up the state park and destroying Trestles, I can assure you the number is much higher today for disapproval of the current proposals that are NOT on the legislative maps. The TCA by settling has shot themselves in the foot as they do not have any other options. The TCA as sure as day is not going to be allowed for the first time to build through existing neighborhoods and over schools. While the TCA would love everyone to hate on environmentalists, as these are the only laws that can protect South OC to stop them, I for one will not fall perfectly into their crafty planned out trap to hate the laws or other groups that can help stop this. This is not an either or scenario for the road paths – that is a false choice the TCA wants you to believe, dont buy into it! Step up lend a hand and it is time to abolish the TCA. No City in OC would have been part of this JPA and allow them to collect 2 Billion in Development Fee’s from Orange County residents over the last 22 years if the TCA were to later come through and destroy their city. That is insane and shows how desperate the TCA is, it is time the TCA is abolished. We need to face the facts the TCA is an agency run amok and a financial failure – they completed 85% of the plans and that is enough considering the roads are underused, overpriced and road to a new traffic jam. The financial failing are great and long standing. The OC Grand Jury report in 2015 on JPA’s expressed concerns about the TCA’s solvency, tax payers have already bailed them out 1.1 Billion Dollars (2nd largest federal bail out after Detroit) for the 2 Billion they have collected in Development Fees we should have superb mobility in OC. They have hefty tolls and raise the rates often. They collected 19 Million in penalties last year and about 10 million in fees charged to people with transponders who do not drive enough on the toll roads are charged a fee. The TCA is not interested in mobility but having fat salaries, lobbyists they spend multi millions of dollars for these special interest projects behind closed door deals to the detriment of every tax payer in the state – they are not fit to build a driveway let alone a transportation corridor. Don’t fall into the TCA trap of thinking – it is time to abolish the TCA – they have not paid off the existing 51 miles that were to cost 858 million to construct (so they said) it cost 3.2 time more a tune of 3.6 Billion dollars and today despite the high tolls, collecting development fees, having Cal Trans maintain the roads on our tax dollars and the mismanagement and overreach of their purpose owe 4.6 Billion on the roads that were to be free 2 years ago – the number is going in the wrong direction. The TCA has run amok Abolish the TCA https://www.change.org/p/ca-assembly-transportation-commission-abolish-tca-a-threat-to-our-quality-of-life

  • Dr. Todd Benton’s comments are 100% consistent with not only the analyses and conclusions that my NGO, CLEAN WATER NOW, came to but are great Cliff Notes/bullet points regarding our concerns. To us the SSOC abandoned the remainder of San Clemente’s open space and watershed, not to mention the entire high value habitat of the lower San Juan Creek Watershed. I completely agree with Laura Ferguson’s Op-Ed letter as well. Astute and incisive, telling it like it is. Read both and you have the basics. As a professional analyst and eco-protection leader myself, I know that the SSOC was selfish, and just milked what was already a dying/dead project after the 2008 Cal Coastal Commission hearing. It was DOA that day. This might help residents and public officials understand why Clean Water Now has been adding its voice and in-house expertise in support of not just denouncing but rolling back the horrendous deal struck between the TCA and SSOC. It’s why we have intervened, been trying to be of some assistance. We’re outraged by the selfish behavior of our former NGO allies. On the other hand, Marty Benson does a contorted, disingenuous, deceptive job of distorting the facts embedded in the 2 settlement’s essential elements…..Benson uses the inclusive WE when in fact & deed it is more akin to an imperious WE, the SSOC anointing themselves as noble, entitled guardians, wrapping themselves in green wrapping paper but $$$ kind of green. What a disservice, to leave the remainder of SOC vulnerable, to play God and decide which biota should live and which die in SOC watersheds: Because surely there will be irreparable, irreplaceable habitat destruction and disconnection. Clean Water Now might seem insensitive, but our biggest concern is about that biota, the ones without a voice, that have no legal representation now that the Twisted Twelve have benched themselves for 30 pieces of silver.
    Last: Why didn’t Benson identify himself, admit that he received funds and has apparently been re-animated, re-hired for damage control? It’s obvious that the campaign Laura’s noting is not because the San Mateo Watershed is in jeopardy: It’s because the SSOC feel their $$$ is in jeopardy.
    From the web regarding Marty Benson:
    Campaign Organizer
    Company Name: Coalition to Save San Onofre
    Dates EmployedAug 2007 – Jun 2009 Employment Duration1 yr 11 mos
    LocationSouthern California
    • Lobbied Govt. Agencies, Organizations, and General Public against destructive toll road.
    • Organized Volunteers and Activists in demonstrations and pro-environmental actions.
    • Drafted letters and articles to Govt. Agencies, papers, and public regarding park preservation.
    • Shot, arranged, edited, composed, and published music and video for the park and campaign.

    Roger E, Bütow Founder & Executive Director Clean Water Now (Established 1998)

  • I admire the SSOC doing what was necessary to preserve what is arguably the last bastion of the original So Cal lifestyle left in Orange County that I grew up with in the 60’s and 70’s. They saw the masses descending from the East and developers bulldozing the open spaces in North OC cities in order to capitalize on it. I barely recognize my home town of Foothill/Villa Park where TCA slammed that 241 behind the backyards of my friend’s homes in Cowen Heights destroying the wilderness we played in as kids.

    I read that CA had a net inflow of 400k people in 2016 with an estimated 50k going to SD. As long as people continue to move here politicians, businessman and developers will conspire on how to profit from it. Look at the growth of transplants in SC in the past 3 years alone. The toll road expansion has already started and unfortunately I do not see this ending well for SC. I have seen this movie before.

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