Toll Road Rage: Don't Trust the Register

Register a complaint

It's easy to understand why the California State Parks and Recreation Commission would take an interest in the county's plan to build the Foothill-South toll road through San Onofre State Beach: the proposed road would run through the heart of one of the five most popular state parks.

What's difficult to understand is why the Register doesn't get that.

The paper's Nov. 16 editorial, "Even state commissions get the NIMBY disease," is, well, bizarre. Bizarre or stupid.

NIMBY means "not in my back yard," and the Register's deployment of it in this context is supposed to suggest that the Parks Commission is acting out of some knee-jerk provincialism. But a toll road through a state park isn't the commission's "back yard." It's what their office is all about. According to the Public Resources Code, the first of the commission's authorities and responsibilities is to "approve general plans for units of the State Park System. The general plan for a unit serves as the guide for the future development, management, and operation of the unit."

Nevertheless, here's the Reg, criticizing the commission's Nov. 3 hearing in San Clemente as "designed to give voice to environmental activists who seem to oppose any effort to expand roads or build anything." Ironic, really, considering that many of the speakers at the hearing recommended widening the 5 as an alternative to building the 241 extension.

In addition to hyperbole, there are errors of fact. The Reg mistakenly suggests the extension will run through the inland portion of the park, "far from the beach and away from the campsites." But "far" and "away" are such relative terms; precision is required. So let's be precise: construction of the toll road will require the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) to rebuild another major street, Cristianitos Road, closer to the campsites—within 100 feet of the campsites at its closest. And as the toll road approaches the 5, the TCA envisions a really magnificent flyover—a massive, swooping plane of concrete that rises up and over the 5, over the San Mateo wetlands, and then descends, slowly, swinging south to join the 5 on its way toward the border. There's no way to build that monument to the automobile without severely encroaching on wetlands, beaches and campsites.

Something has gone wrong on the fifth floor of Reg Central. Really: What's become of the paper's much-vaunted libertarianism—its distrust of government, its hatred of taxes, public schools and the DMV? Vanished. Consider this nugget: equating government spending and sloth with quality, the Reg editorial suggests that environmentalists should just back the hell off—because the county's toll road agency spent $17 million and six years to produce a 3,200-page environmental impact survey that gives the extension a clean bill of health. Six years. It took the state attorney general's office less than three months to declare the report bullshit. "The attorney general cannot state strongly enough the inappropriateness of any alternatives that would allow a multi-lane freeway to be built down the length of the inland portion of San Onofre State Beach," Deputy Attorney General Brian Hembacher wrote the TCA in August 2004. Despite that, the project's still on track, suggesting that no one else can state it strongly enough either.

Don't worry, says the Reg: the TCA will provide "extensive environmental mitigation." According to Michael Fitts, staff attorney for Endangered Habitats, "You can't mitigate impact if you're going to put a toll road down the backbone of a state park. It's ruined." In addition, the San Mateo campground was constructed as mitigation for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station; now the TCA proposes to mitigate mitigation.

In a boldly mystical moment, the Reg predicts the Foothill-South will have "minimal impact on those who enjoy this park." They know neither jack nor shit when it comes to details on the park, and they presume to correct the State Parks Commission on usage projections? In this very column, I reported that State Parks would have no choice but to close the San Mateo Campground if the Foothill-South is built.

All is made clear when the Register admits they "don't understand why a state commission, representing a state agency, would take an activist political role in lobbying against a proposed road." What's not to understand? Michael Fitts explains thus: "They're the Parks Commission, for chrissake. They're just carrying out their mandate. If the Parks Commission doesn't stand up to protect the parks, who will?"

 
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