As a physician and actual resident of San Clemente, I feel an obligation to respond to Mr. Bastone's August 23rd opinion piece in the Voice of OC. Mr. Bastone certainly has admirable credentials as a hospital administrator with a public health background but his arguments in favor of the 241 Toll Road extension through San Clemente are incorrect in so many ways.
The 241 Toll Road extension efforts started LONG before San Clemente closed or even considered closing its hospital. Mr. Bastone is simply wrong in claiming there are no alternative routes to Mission Hospital Medical Center that could avoid congestion on I-5. In August 2016, the $127 million La Pata gap connector opened providing a direct route to Crown Valley to over 12,000 residents who live East of the Interstate 5.
I live in Rancho San Clemente and I can see the I-5 from my back window. As a physician, I regularly had to commute to and from Mission Hospital RMC from San Clemente. On the RARE instance when the I-5 looked congested, I took the Avenida La Pata route to Crown Valley once it was opened.
Mr. Bastone relates that "the I-5 corridor between Mission Viejo and Oceanside is one of the most heavily congested areas in South Orange County. In my experience, that is much more likely to occur when going south on weekends. There are times when it is congested going north from San Clemente but this has been mostly related to the ongoing construction and expansion of the I-5 and occasional accidents. Anyone south of San Onofre would have the option of going south to Tri City Hospital in Oceanside if the northbound I-5 was congested.
Mr. Bastone, the former President & CEO of MHRMC, also lives in Mission Viejo. The politicians in Mission Viejo have come out in favor of the Toll Road extension through San Clemente because their citizen's main stake in the game is the benefit they might receive from a more direct route to the beaches and to San Diego. We in San Clemente moved here BECAUSE of the open spaces, the beach and the vistas provided by this beautiful city. Very few people (esp. those, like myself, who have lived here for >30 years) were given any reason to believe that an enormous toll road cutting through their open space might be in the horizon.
Perhaps the most incorrect statement that Mr. Bastone makes is his contention that it's "patently false" that a Toll Road could negatively affect the health of the community. He bases this on the "numerous studies that have shown that a decrease in traffic congestion leads to a decrease in dangerous pollutant emissions".
First, there is the unproven argument that the Toll Road would actually decrease congestion on the I-5, especially around the Toll Road Interchange with the I-5. Many have argued that the proposed Toll Road would actually increase freeway congestion in San Clemente. More importantly, Mr. Bastone completely ignores the fact that these dangerous pollutant emissions would certainly increase in parts of the town of San Clemente and along the Toll road route where there would be an extensive, multi-lane Toll Road constantly spewing dangerous pollutants and toxic VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) into areas where residents go about their daily lives in homes, schools and businesses and where the vast majority of people spend FAR more time than on freeways or toll roads.
The LA Times recently related that an LA City Council panel had rejected plans for homes to be built within 500 feet of the 110 and 91 freeways and linked to an earlier article that stated that even people living in homes within 1,000 feet of a freeway are subject to increased health risks. These include higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, dementia, pre-term births, childhood obesity and autism. A toll road through San Clemente could actually INCREASE the incidence of health emergencies that concern Mr. Bastone. The proposed route of the Toll road that would go through San Clemente would not only pass very close to several schools but may pass directly over a part of San Clemente High School (possibly within 500 feet),
San Juan Hills High School and Tesoro High School. Recently Capo Unified voted in closed session to sue on the grounds of CEQA violations for the construction of the Oso Bridge that would help connect the 241 to Rancho Santa Margarita via a route that puts the 241 extension within 500 ft of the Tesoro campus)
There are certainly better solutions to the traffic problems on the I-5, and we haven't even seen what benefit the current construction to expand the I-5 in San Clemente or the expansion of La Pata will provide. The fact is that the impetus for this Toll road is being driven by the poorly run, significantly indebted TCA who sees this Toll road as the golden egg that might save them from their previous failures.
San Clemente should have an overriding say in what happens to their community. No private/public agency should have the right to unilaterally make decisions that have the potential to have such negative health impacts on a well-established and planned out community
Steven N. Viele, M.D., FAAP is a San Clemente resident
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