San Clemente is a surfer's paradise and the dream of founder Ole Hanson. While it prepares for its 90th anniversary, the citizens of San Clemente have been rocked by a plan to put a toll road through the center of their town. Ole Hanson built the town to take advantage of the world-class beaches, beautiful views, and open spaces. Now it may have a highway that goes through established neighborhoods, parks and schools. The town with "The Greatest Climate on Earth" may soon have more pollution than anywhere in Orange County, if the toll road plans are approved.
The Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA), a joint powers authority of cities (north of San Clemente), Supervisor Bartlett are pushing these plans through. The citizens of San Clemente don’t get to vote on these absurd plans either. The TCA wants to ram a TOLL ROAD through planned open space. Most of the open space is land that developers gave the city as mitigation for their development. "Mitigation" means that developers can build, but need to allow for open space requirements, migratory passages for animals, and to develop the land according to the pre-set rules of the community. Essentially, the TCA believes that they can "mitigate the mitigation land" and everyone will go their merry way.
San Clemente residents are fighting back. In a few short weeks people have mobilized creating decals, yard signs, T-shirts, posters, fundraisers and more. Thousands have signed the petition on change.org. Even HOAs have quickly passed resolutions against the Toll Roads.
This latest iteration of the Toll Road is the worst to date. The "Pico" route (alignment #14) that seems to be the TCA's favorite, would go by six schools. The Toll Road could be situated less than 500 feet of San Juan Hills, San Clemente High and Marblehead Elementary, violating SB -532 rules, but who cares because it's only kids, right? According to councilmember Chris Hamm, the Toll Road would fly over San Clemente High’s baseball field.
This Toll Road would also be on top of our newly-built, multi-million dollar sports park, creating health and safety concerns to anyone who uses the park. Nothing says "healthy" like playing soccer while inhaling diesel fumes.
The TCA recently lost a huge settlement while pushing for the "Green Alignment", a toll road around the outside of San Clemente. The same legal issues that the environmental groups called out such as the endangered gnat catcher, endangered trout and the watershed are present in these new proposed routes. We're dealing with the same issues with the new proposed alignments, but now people are also in danger as well.
The people of San Clemente voted loud and clear through Measure V that they cherish open space. The city itself has fought the TCA three times and will continue to fight until they chose a sensible route South County that the residents approve, or until the TCA is dismantled. The TCA will tell you that they have engaged the public. I beg to differ. Their public forum was nothing more of a charade, separating people into factions so they could fight each other, having routes on the map that they knew they were not possible (like the Green Alignment), and apparently having input from only 10 people from the business community from which to draw these absurd routes.
The TCA has also not said if minority groups and disenfranchised groups participated in the process. How about the parents of the children attending San Clemente or San Juan Hills High School? How about the many families that are going to have their ocean view homes turn into disgusting freeway-view homes? Or the many seniors that live in San Clemente that are going to lose significant equity during their retirement years? If this issue was truly about improving traffic flow, shouldn't the Toll Roads drop their toll prices? Wouldn't deeply discounted weekend rates help the flow of traffic?
Republican politicians in Orange County are taking a big gamble with this Toll Road. By siding with the Toll Roads over the residents, a road that would take hundreds of millions in home values will potentially go through the middle of a highly Republican area. These people voted for Donald J Trump 59% to 41%, rejected Prop 57 by over 50% and gave Darrell Issa the narrow margin he needed to win.
Democrat Doug Applegate has already seized the opportunity by meeting with constituents, and posed for photos with NO TOLL ROAD THROUGH SAN CLEMENTE. With 38,000 votes and an 85% voter participation in the last election, Republican politicians should be paying more attention to San Clemente voters and their needs.
Eva O’Keefe, co-founder of San Clemente Cares
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