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By Eric Heinz
According to a survey initiated by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in August, most people in Orange County would welcome a toll road or some kind of additional thoroughfare through South Orange County; not surprisingly, San Clemente residents remained vehemently opposed to such construction, the survey results showed.
Conducted by SmithJohnson Research, the survey interviewed 1,000 people and found that most people in the county were in favor of a “through-pass,” which would be a toll road through the city of San Clemente, or adding lanes to Interstate 5. Doing nothing was mostly opposed and the Beltway option that would connect Toll Road 73 to Toll Road 241 also did not receive favorable marks.
However, a secondary survey that interviewed 590 residents in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point found one out of four residents, through two separate ballots, said they were opposed to any thru-pass alignment. The survey also took the San Clemente City Council’s opinion of not wanting a toll road through the city in its questions.
Mike Kraman, CEO of the TCA, said the survey was intended to display the opinions of people countywide as well as in the Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.
“It’s important we get this information out there, and fundamentally what we’re (seeing) is that people want traffic relief,” Kraman said during a conference call with media personnel. “We looked at several of the ideas creating the most controversy, but this is not an endorsement of anything. We’re releasing this to show (responses) related to traffic concerns, and we hope this info helps bring people to the table.”
The most lopsided result of the countywide questions asked if people ever experienced traffic congestions on I-5 in South Orange County, without specifying dates or time periods to allot for recent construction projects which could correlate to an influx of traffic. Eighty-two percent of respondents stated “often” and the rest of the answers were “seldom, almost never or undecided.”
“…San Clemente is no longer this sleepy little surfing town, and they’re not happy about that, and there were a number of people who saw the problem,” said Bereket Kelile of SmithJohnson Research during the teleconference.
Kelile said the consensus countywide was “pretty solidified” regarding the toll roads and that their opinions didn’t change much once they heard the arguments presented by the survey.
“SmithJohnson Research drafted, conducted and analyzed 1,590 multi-language (English and Spanish) surveys consisting of 31 questions lasting approximately 20 minutes each countywide in Orange County, which includes 1,000 surveys for the entire county and 590 surveys for oversampling in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point,” said Jeff Corless, the public information officer for the TCA. “The countywide base surveys cost $72,311.40 and the oversample surveys cost $42,468.60. Forty percent of the surveys were completed via mobile phones and approximately 10 percent were completed online.”
San Clemente Mayor Kathy Ward, who is a director on the Foothills/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency, told the San Clemente Times on Oct. 12 that she was unaware of any survey and hadn’t seen most of the questions until a day after it was released to the media in person and in conference call.
Ward said she requested the survey, but wasn’t able to receive it until later in the afternoon on Wednesday.
“I had no idea what the survey was. So I thought that was poor on TCA’s part to say that it had to be held and not sent to the directors,” Ward said, adding the language of “through-pass” was misleading as that term had never been used by officials. “I think the questions were narrowly tailored to what TCA wanted it to be. I don’t agree with the questions,” Ward said.
Ward said she has requested to agendize the survey for the next public meeting for the TCA so she can ask questions and wants “through-pass” defined by what it means for the city of San Clemente.
Mark McGuire, a member of the Coalition to Save San Clemente (CSSC), disputed the findings of the results and said the information related to population increase and traffic density is skewed. McGuire cited a County of Orange document that showed population increases since 1960, and that the growth wasn’t reflective of a 400,000 population growth in the next eight years, which was stated on the TCA’s survey.
“The survey used knowingly and demonstrably false information in its questions,” McGuire said in an emailed statement. “When you include lies in a survey, you will not get accurate poll results.”
See the full results of the survey here:
Petitioning the TCA
During the Oct. 12 joint meeting of the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor and the
Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor agencies, CSSC co-leader Eva O’Keefe presented the TCA board with what she said were 8,000 signatures of a petition that opposes all toll roads through South Orange County.
More signatures, up to 12,000 total, may also be collected by other activists in San Clemente, O’Keefe said.
“The petition is being sent to the TCA; we just dropped it off at Senator Kamala Harris’s office, (Orange County Supervisor, District 5) Lisa Bartlett, to Gov. (Jerry) Brown,” O’Keefe said.
A new campaign the CSSC has engaged is called Not One More Inch that intends to stop the expansion of the 241 toll road at Oso Parkway. The campaign is working with environmental groups and city officials in its effort.
Another argument that’s been bandied at City Council and other public meetings is that home sellers are seeing potential buyers pull out of escrow once they learn of the potential toll road alignments. The San Clemente Times reached out to the Orange County Association of Realtors a couple weeks ago regarding disclosure of potential projects, and the basic explanation was realtors do not have to disclose until a solidified project is approved.
“We have documented about eight homes, and we have statements from both the buyer, the realtor and the seller, that as soon as (potential buyers) find out that homes are near a (proposed) toll road route, they’re pulling out,” O’Keefe said. “This impacts not only the real estate, but the title, the repair, the materials.”
The current toll road alignments, of which there are now 20, are still being discussed through the California Environmental Quality Act process to determine adverse effects and to take public comment. Scoping and technical studies are currently underway, and a draft environmental impact report is scheduled by the TCA to be completed in 2020.
Watch the video below to see the latest updates on the toll road discussion.
Editor’s note: This is a developing story. More information will be provided at www.sanclementetimes.com when it becomes available.