Department of Navy agrees to support 3-year extension to lease at San Onofre State Beach

By Jake Howard

Good news is at a premium these days, and last week all the surfers who live for those long, sunny days at San Onofre enjoyed a ray of sunshine.

The U.S. Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton announced it is in support of a short-term extension to the state’s lease of San Onofre State Park.

The current lease is set to expire on August 31, 2021, but this new option would extend that period through August of 2024.

“The Department of the Navy is carefully considering the state’s request and working cooperatively with the state on how to move forward. To support this cooperation and future collaboration, Marine Corps Installations West-Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton supports a three-year extension of the current lease to give the Department of the Navy an opportunity to complete the work necessary to execute any succeeding lease, including updating existing surveys,” Camp Pendleton states in a press release dated April 24.

Obviously, this is a big deal for local surfers. San Onofre State Beach is one of the most utilized beaches in all of California, with generations of surfers being raised on its cobblestone shore.

The Department of the Navy owns the land on which Camp Pendleton sits, including San Onofre State Beach. The area that’s currently being leased goes from San Mateo Point (Cottons) all the way through Trail 6 at the Bluffs Campground and is made up of nearly 2,000 acres of land in Orange and San Diego counties.

“This is only an interim solution, but it will provide the Department of the Navy with additional time to work towards a longer, more comprehensive lease agreement for the future,” San Onofre Parks Foundation says in a press release.

Surfrider Foundation, which has been a staunch advocate for preserving this unique coastal environment, is also in support of the Navy extending the lease for another three years.

“Surfrider believes a lease extension will provide the Department of the Navy (DON), which owns the Camp Pendleton property, with a path towards planning for a long-term lease renewal of San Onofre. The timing of the park lease extension would coincide with the decommissioning and dismantlement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). In 2024, an easement between Camp Pendleton and SONGS’ operators is set to expire. Surfrider believes a park lease extension will provide the DON with additional time to collectively analyze the issues regarding the park and SONGS leases,” explains Surfrider’s Stefanie Sekich-Quinn.

At present, the decommissioning process at SONGS has been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will affect the costs and timelines of the project.

There are undoubtedly serious issues ahead for San Onofre and how surfers will be able to enjoy the sacred space in the future. The long-term lease with the Navy and the decommissioning of SONGS are two things that won’t be solved overnight, but with an extra three years to breathe and make the best decisions possible, this latest development definitely falls into the “good news” category.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including the San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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