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The third public forum of the Transportation Corridor Agencies is scheduled for June 5 at Saddleback College, located at 28000 Marguerite Parkway in Mission Viejo. For more information, visit www.getmovingoc.com.
By Eric Heinz
A young man, maybe in his early 20s, ran across Calle Valle, unaware of the significance of the sign in Shea Weber’s store frontage, but he said he had to know about it.
Weber said the man wondered what the need for a “No Toll Roads Through San Clemente” statement prominently displayed.
“That’s why the education is super important,” Weber said. “We need to at least get info to people to make an educated choice.”
After the proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) to put a toll road through Trestles failed in 2014, the quasi-governmental entity started hosting public forums in 2016 with new proposals. To date, 18 proposals have been circulating throughout public forums, City Council meetings and the TCA board of directors meetings. The reason for this is because of population growth, development and a freeway, I-5, that frequently becomes stagnant with traffic.
Some proposals look at going straight through San Clemente, some extend roads and some are transportation enhancements.
Many San Clemente residents have mobilized to oppose many or all of the options put forth by TCA.
“I grew up in a small town of Hermosa Beach, and back then San Clemente was a very small beach town as well,” Weber, the owner of Dewey Weber Surfboards, said. “Hermosa is no longer that way. It’s condensed, it’s overbuilt, with too many people and buildings. San Clemente still feels like a beach town, yet we continue to do things that jeopardize that.”
Weber said he’s not against growth and development, but he said the character of San Clemente is rooted in being a “cool beach town.”
“Once you start putting things like a toll road through San Clemente, it will radically change what this place is,” Weber said.
The most prevalent thing to understand at this time is that nothing is set it stone; none of the proposed routes have been approved and no major discovery has been announced. The TCA and a collection of environmental groups settled a 10-year lawsuit last fall. The lawsuit included the TCA funding a near-$30 million trust to be used for environmental mitigation efforts. The settlement ensures no toll road, by the TCA, goes through certain areas of the San Mateo Watershed to the south of San Clemente and other environmentally sensitive areas. The environmental studies, required by law, have yet to materialize on the new proposals.
The proposal most popular with many San Clemente residents is the 18th, which would connect the 73 toll road to the 241, but even that is a hypothetical brainchild, and on the map it sort of peters off into an unidentified terminus. Therefore, changes can be made.
Local Businesses Produce ‘No Toll Road’ Signs
Karin Michielsen, owner of Petit Bonhomme, has been selling “No Toll Road Through San Clemente” bumper stickers and lawn signs at her shop on Avenida Del Mar.
“I think it’s wrong to put a toll road through the middle of our little town,” Michielsen said. “People don’t think that it’s going to happen, but it is happening. I think if they really have to have a toll road, then they should put it way past San Clemente where there’s nobody living and maybe through camp Pendleton.”
Sandy Marquez, of Sandy and Rich Relators with REMAX, said she purchased $700 worth of “No Toll Road” bumper stickers and lawn signs.
“There’s a lot of fear and people are afraid of losing everything that they worked for,” Marquez said. “As far as a real estate concern, people are wondering…why this is happening, and we were told these hills were protected. They bought because of the open space and the views. They’re asking if they should sell or wait, and they wonder if their home is going to be taken through eminent domain.”
Sheila Feiner, owner of Versicolor Screen Printing, has been printing and donating bumper stickers and the “No Toll Roads” Signs.
“We are longtime residents of San Clemente and we’ve had our business here for 25 years and we just saw a need to make other residents more aware and help the cause,” Feiner said.
The South Orange County Mobility Working Group was scheduled to have a meeting with local representatives and TCA board members on Wednesday, May 10, at the Outlets at San Clemente. But after Curt Pringle & Associates, the business administering the meeting, was made aware of some confusion, the meeting was canceled on Monday. The meeting was never intended to be a public forum, officials with TCA said.
“A few members of the public have mischaracterized the South Orange County Mobility Working Group (SOCMWG) meeting scheduled on Wednesday, May 10, 2017, as a public forum,” an email obtained by the San Clemente Times stated. “This has caused confusion with other members of the public regarding the appropriate forums for participation and feedback.”
To clarify any confusion, the email stated a public forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. on June 5 at Saddleback College.
“The SOCMWG meeting is a working group for South County local elected officials in transportation leadership roles to provide policy direction and oversight that ensures a fair and inclusive process for the public,” the email stated.
Jeff Corless, a spokesperson for the TCA, said there is a long way to go with the environmental review processes, which are required by law.
“We’re in the very beginning stages of the project initiation document process,” Corless said. “The environmental impact report and environmental impact statement process will begin later this year, and the first scoping meeting will take place early next year.”
Corless said he hopes people will attend the June 5 forum.
“We’re directing folks to that forum because that is the next public outreach,” Corless said. “There are lots of opportunities for the public to be engaged and to follow the process, and that’s why we’re holding these public forums.
Eva O’Keefe has made herself known in San Clemente as an activist for various issues, and she has been encouraging people to sign a petition started by Coalition to Save San Clemente.
The organizers of the group want to give the petition to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Darrell Issa, state Sen. Patricia Bates, state Assemblyman Bill Brough, the officials at the TCA and Gov. Jerry Brown.
The petition has gained more than 2,100 signatures as of Wednesday, and O’Keefe wants to reach 5,000.
Some of the reasons for opposition the group has stated are related to property values and various economic issues that could come with the construction of a toll road. In theory, it would create more local seasonal jobs, but petitioners fear the long-term effects. Other reasons include possible negative health effects on residents who would have to live near the toll road from collective exhaust.
“From my conversations (with local officials), it seems that (the TCA) is pushing for option 14,” O’Keefe said. “The TCA’s goal is to connect the 241 to I-5. The Toll Road would have to go past our high school and impact Marblehead.”
O’Keefe said the organization is open to arterial roadways that would not affect any cities.
“They could connect Crown Valley to the 241, La Pata to Cristianitos Road, and there are other arterials that are not even on maps right now that could potentially be useful,” O’Keefe said, adding the petition will support these alternatives.
The options would not come to fruition for at least seven to 10 years and could cost between less than $100 million or more than $600 million, according to preliminary estimates from the TCA’s meeting last year.
O’Keefe said as technology and transportation evolves, the need for a toll road may become obsolete. She said the concept may be outdated by the time construction could start.
“It’s like the Walkman in 1990-something,” O’Keefe said. “What could be done is reducing the rates of the toll roads and then make it available to more people, make it more affordable.”
Funding sources for the toll road at this time are nebulous. Some have no identified funding, some could be funded by the TCA using development impact feeds or toll revenue bonds.
One method of funding the toll roads could be through Development Impact Fees, which are “collected from development projects to supplement funding towards defined infrastructure projects,” according to a statement fromt the TCA. “These fees are utilized for funding new projects and for paying debt service on previously constructed projects in the designated area of benefit. For South Orange County traffic relief projects, these revenues may be one component of many used to pay for part of an approved project or toward debt payments on existing infrastructure even if no new project is approved through the legally required environmental review process.”
More information on these fees can be found at https://www.thetollroads.com/about/development.
Crystal Kate Bonham is an admin for the Facebook page San Clemente AMPED. The AMPED stands for alike minds pursuing edified direction for alternative to the proposals
“There’s been a lot of discussion on the page and none of us are in favor or against any proposal,” Bonham said. “A lot of us (want) an alternative that would go around San Clemente and not to deal with eminent domain or private property.”
Bonham said there are many in the group who are not in favor of the arterial routes, such as the ones proposed by City Council at recent meetings. These would expand in San Juan Capistrano and La Pata to make them connect from the 241 through near Cristianitos Road, but would not be a toll road.
“Most people in the group just really want a way to route the toll road away from San Clemente because it’s seemingly inevitable, and everyone wants to figure out a way for it to run alongside Camp Pendleton and work with them,” Bonham said.
Bonham said she thinks the I-5 extension will help mitigate traffic for some time, but with continued development, population increases and other factors, she said it’s only a matter of time when a route would become necessary.
“As San Clemente residents, we should talk about the toll roads not going through our town while we explore a better alternative,” Bonham said. “To take an entire geographic area off the map and the rerouted, I don’t think that solves any environmental issues at all. If we keep protesting without an alternative, they’ll just shove it down our throats.”
Ocean Festival Targeted for Accepting Sponsorship
The opposition to the toll road proposals has become so divisive that people took to Facebook to state their opinion about The Toll Roads being one sponsor of Ocean Festival, the city’s largest annual event.
People were tanking the rating of the foundation that operates the event by giving it one star out of five.
Peggy Vance, the executive director of Ocean Festival, distributed a statement regarding the blowback.
“The San Clemente Ocean Festival is a 501(c)4 nonprofit volunteer organization, and does not take a stance on any sponsors or organizations that participate at the event,” Vance stated in the email. “As we enter our 41st year, we thank the many local companies that have sponsored and supported us through the years. We encourage all sponsors that participate at the event to help us provide a fun, safe environment for everyone to enjoy, while promoting their business or products.
“The San Clemente Ocean Festival works diligently each year to produce ‘The Greatest Show on Surf’ for all to enjoy,” the statement continued. “We have the privilege to give back to the community annually, thanks to monies raised through our sponsors, T-shirt sales and athletic event registrations, by providing scholarships to local graduating seniors, and donations to a multitude of local organizations within the community such a Jr. Lifeguards, Beach Concerts, Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors, Ocean Institute’s Adopt-A-Class programs for SCHS students, Community Outreach Alliance, and more.”
The significance of TCA’s sponsorship was unclear. Ocean Festival is scheduled for July 15-16 at the San Clemente Pier.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include more reasons for the local petition against the toll road through San Clemente, to specify the environmental processes and to include information on possible funding sources for the toll roads. The name of Jeff Corless has been corrected.