Trestles saved: Coastal Commission rejects toll project
Marathon Meeting Brings Massive Victory For “Save Trestles” Campaign
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 7 February, 2008 : - - Slightly after 11:00 p.m. last night, at the end of a marathon meeting that lasted 14 hours, the California Coastal Commission ruled that plans for the 241 Toll Road extension through the San Mateo Creek watershed and San Onofre State Park were not in compliance with the California Coastal Act.
Opponents to the project have long insisted that not only would the toll road irreparably harm habitat for endangered species, sacred Indian burial grounds, and the well-used San Mateo campground, but that erosion control measures would drastically alter the cobblestone lineups at Trestles, arguably the best stretch of coast in California for surfing.
The final vote, which was greeted with ebullient cheering from a diehard cadre of about 400 pro-Trestles supporters, erects a significant roadblock for the TCA and will make it much more difficult for the toll road agency to obtain the other permits it needs to begin construction. The TCA is expected to appeal.
The campaign against the road began more than a decade ago, but reached a significant milepost yesterday at Wyland Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. An estimated 3,000 people converged on the CCC meeting, making it the most attended meeting in the agency's history.
Industry support : photo courtesy Sean O'Brien
Indeed, the meeting had been moved from the Oceanside City Council Hall to the larger venue in anticipation of the crowds, but it’s clear the attendance surprised many. “I was speaking with a reporter from the New York Times yesterday,” said Surfrider Foundation Executive Director Jim Moriarty, “and he asked me how many people I expected. I told him about 1,000.” Moriarty looks around at the huge numbers of toll road opponents outside Wyland Hall and smiles.
Signs of the meeting were visible even from the freeway as traffic backed up on the Via Del La Valle off ramp. The massive Del Mar Fairgrounds parking lot was choked with a seemingly endless stream of cars, some emblazoned with Pro Trestles slogans. It was clear the surf industry was there in force as well: RVs from Fox, Boost Mobile, etnies, Billabong, Volcom, Hurley and others were lined up to form a unified wall of support.
That support didn’t end at the parking lot. Dozens of surf industry leaders were on hand to lend support, organized in part by Former Surfing Publisher Bob Mignogna who had been relentlessly beating the warning drums about the meeting for weeks.
The pro 241 contingent was also present in the form of about 100 demonstrators wearing orange T-shirts and caring pickets and a few dozen guys in suits. While Surf Expo was unable to confirm the assertion, many in the audience insisted that some of the pro-toll road supporters were paid $25 to attend the meeting.
Packed room : photo courtesy Sean O'Brien
Wyland Hall was a sea of placards at 9:00 a.m. when the meeting got underway. To show respect for the proceedings, attendees were asked to refrain from making verbal outbursts. Instead, you were supposed to show your feelings with either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Most followed this admonition, but not always.
And when the crowd couldn’t contain itself and lifted a unified hoot to the rafters, the sound those thousands of pro-Trestles supporters made sent shivers down my spine.
Sal Masekela, industry emcee and host of E!’s The Daily Ten put it as well as any: “I was driving down here with Taylor [Steele] and we were talking about just how many punches surfers have thrown at each other over Trestles. But once it became threatened, all that was dropped and we all came together.” Masekela motions to the huge crowd all around him.
“It’s heartwarming to see the response. I was standing outside and to just see the waves of cars coming in, how traffic was backed up on the freeway. This is an important day for the surf industry.”
Shaun Tomson : photo courtesy Sean O'Brien
But it was a long day as well. Over the course of the next seven hours attendees became well versed in terms like mitigation, ESHA, the plight of the California Pocket Mouse, and much more. There were also some surreal moments, like walking behind what appeared to be a TCA employee and noticing that he was in Billabong apparel from head to toe. Gordan Merchant would be rolling over in his grave if he were dead.
Public comment didn’t begin until after lunch and then rolled for many long hours. Well after dusk fell, SIMA President Dick Baker spoke on the economic benefit the lineups of Trestles provide to both the local community and the surf industry as a whole, offering committee members even more food for thought.
Public comment proceeded until a 9:00 p.m. cut off, but even then more were lined up to speak. “I’ve been here since 6:00 a.m.,” said a clearly frustrated bearded gentleman in a Marine Corp bomber jacket. “All I want is one minute.” He was sent away frustrated.
But with the ten members of the CCC starting to understandably glaze, it was time to get down to business. At this point it wasn’t clear which way the vote would go. Throughout the day opponents of the toll road had been managing expectations, saying that regardless of how the CCC voted that the campaign would continue. The Surfrider’s Moriaty went one better, saying that this wasn’t a "campaign" at all but a "lifestyle," one which would need years of future attention.
Toll road supporters : photo courtesy Sean O'Brien
And when the commissioners began their deliberations, things didn’t get off on the best foot. Commissioner Burke made a motion in favor of the TCA proposal and it was quickly seconded. Would all the hours and passion come to naught?
But then Commissioner Larry Clark spoke up and hope returned to the crowd. He spoke with passion and conviction about his experience driving on another Orange County Toll Road, Highway 73, which cut through the pristine Laguna Canyon. He said that although traffic was clogged on the nearby 405, the 73 toll road was virtually empty, unused. “If you build it, will they come?” he asked rhetorically. The crowd erupted in cheers. “I think this project is flawed.”
Commissioner Sara Wan then spoke, chastising the TCA and its hired scientists for what she called “junk science,” insisting that the environmental reports the TCA submitted were sloppy and flawed. She appeared to have the expertise—and history—to back up her claim. “I don’t understand how anyone can believe that putting in a six-lane toll road will not result in water degradation,” she said.
But the real hero in my eyes was ironically an appointee of Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's governor, who has publicly come out in support of the Toll Road extension. Commissioner Steve Blank called TCA CEO Tom Margro back to the podium and asked a series of specific questions that would have made Perry Mason proud, for all intents and purposes dismantling him.
The pro-Trestles crowd began to titter, recognizing that momentum suddenly seemed to be on their side, and then erupted when Blank concluded with, “Offers to buy a state park and run a toll road through it are embarrassing."
Honestly, it seemed on lock from there on in. Commissioner Mary Schallenberger asked specific questions about both the Native American burial grounds and the historic significance of San Onofre to surf culture. “The toll road project cannot show mitigation for the loss of these sacred burial sites,” she said. “For that alone I cannot approve this project.”
Another commissioner, William Burke, lamely cast about with questions that since there was already a freeway and railroad running through the park, why was putting in another one so cataclysmic. “I’m sure there are some pocket mice smashed on the I-5,” he speculated.
However CCC staff members pointed out that the I-5 and railroad were in place before the area was designated as a State Park and that it was the CCC’s duty to make sure that projects such as these were in compliance with the California Coastal Act. Burke, seemingly deflated, sat back in his chair.
And then suddenly Chairman Patrick Kruer was calling for a vote, and as the CCC secretary made the roll call tally, it became instantly clear that all the time, work, effort, and passion would be paying off for the pro-Trestles supporters.
And when Kruer cast the last no vote, finalizing the 8 to 2 result, the crowd exploded in a cathartic hoot, a cheer so loud that one hopes it’s heard all the way to Sacramento. The battle isn’t over, the “lifestyle” continues, but as supporters hugged and gave emphatic thank yous to the commission members, it seems that there was indeed every reason for hope.
Environment - Surfersvillage