Bauer: Radioactive Sharks and Other Problems

San Clemente has two fights on its hands. The sleepy little “Spanish Village by the Sea” has been in the national news lately about shark attacks, but nuclear waste stored at San Onofre and the re-emergence of a toll road plan threatening to split the town in half are the real problems in the community.

Both issues are too crazy to even contemplate. Not one of the eight million people living within 50 miles of San Onofre think nuclear waste storage just 100 feet from the beach is a good idea. And yet all we can hope for is that California and the Federal government can stop fighting long enough to do what’s right for the residents.

Which brings us to the toll road. The TCA has tried to force this road through several times. The current design they’re pushing would literally split San Clemente in half, killing it. And for what? The TCA’s own estimates show traffic improving between 2% to 8%.

In other words, hundreds of millions of our tax dollars will be spent on a toll road we have to pay to use, and hundreds of millions of dollars will be lost in home values and a damaged tax base, all for a toll road that doesn’t work. Didn’t California just get a huge tax increase on gas and registration? Isn’t a toll road just a glorified use tax?

And yet some neighboring cities are buying into the idea. Why? Mainly because they see the TCA as a shark, and if the blood in the water is San Clemente’s, then there’s a good chance their own town won’t be targeted. Residents themselves are starting to see that, and reach out to form their own alliances against the Toll Roads.

This has been going on for far too many years to fully explain the politics, but the bottom line is that the TCA has the most debt of any toll road company in America, and therefore the riders pay (by far) the highest tolls. Riders can pay as much as $21 for a one-way trip from South OC to Riverside! The TCA’s plan is to grow or die, as they’ve had to restructure their debt twice, and recent law suit losses have left them scrambling for a new roads and new tolls.

The TCA has been quietly scheming to put this road in place, grabbing parcels of land like a game of “Go Fish”, hoping to swap their cards for a winning hand that takes them all the way down to San Diego. There they could start fresh, this time in another county. They’ve also had help from politicians such as Lisa Bartlett, who still sits on the board at the TCA even after she had her authority to write contracts stripped from her in 2014. One wonders who else is colluding with the TCA.

The town of San Clemente is now 95% built out. The town started by Ole Hanson almost 90 years ago will be completely built out 100 years after its birth. Or the town will be dead, and home values will plunge. The air quality that doesn’t meet air standards now will get worse, while the toll road will be placed next to our children’s schools. Road noise, pollution and street lights will replace the sounds of dozens of birds species that migrate through our town each year.

It’s not well known that Ole Hanson and President Teddy Roosevelt were good friends. They shared a love of the outdoors, and appreciated the natural world around them. Roosevelt understood the importance of open space and helped expand Yosemite and put it under the administration of the National Park Service in 1916. That was just ten years before San Clemente was created. Our town has worked since then to keep at least 50% of the land for open space, to keep our tallest ridgelines free of homes, and even to develop areas for our local animals to migrate from the hills to the ocean. And our ocean…we love it. We love living here, and will fight against anything to keep our Spanish Village by the sea.

Cord Bauer, co-founder of San Clemente Cares 

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