In a move so non-rare it could be called well-done if it weren't less crispy and more slimy, Transportation Corridor Agencies counsel Robert Thornton has resorted to erroneous presumptions and dubious assertions in a pointless attempt to prevent the Department of Commerce from holding a hearing on the Foothill-South toll road extension. Who ever thought a lawyer would be sleazy?
Let us begin not with Thornton's bitchy March 28 letter (Download file) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, written on Nossaman Gunther Knox & Elliot letterhead, but with the April 3 response Download file on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, including Surfrider and the California State Parks Foundation, who took a pantload of umbrage at the TCA's request:
This remarkable request is not based on the absence of controversy in this project, but on the very existence of controversy. TCA claims that providing a forum to the public will “drown out” discussion of the project. In fact, it is TCA —which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money on public relations and lobbying firms in an effort to promote the project—that is seeking to drown out meaningful discussion by foreclosing an important public forum on the issues raised by its appeal.
In addition to the Coastal Commission's request for a hearing, the environmental coalition requested one as well, citing 15 C.F.R. § 930.128(d):
(d) Except in the case of appeals involving energy projects, the Secretary may hold a public hearing in response to a request or on the Secretary's own initiative.
Well, that seems pretty straightforward. A hearing has been twice-requested. You can check the law yourself but take my word for it, there's nothing about requests to deny hearings. Thus Thornton's whining seems pointless. But what may be more important to note is that his whining includes falsehoods—falsehoods reported to a governmental agency. Stick with me past the jump for more on the lies as well as an alternative to the 241 from none other than Mike Dukakis, who is not only a visiting professor of public policy at UCLA during the winter quarter, but is also actress Olympia Dukakis's cousin. And something of a politician I hear.
Thornton's letter claims that the February Coastal Commission Hearing, moved from Oceanside City Hall to the Del Mar Fairgrounds to accomodate the over-3,000 attendees (the largest attendance in the 36-year history of the Commission) was "calculated to maximize attendance by project opponents." The environmental coalition responds by claiming there is "no merit to TCA’s claim ... After it became apparent that the original hearing location, Oceanside City Hall, could not accommodate the anticipated number of attendees, the Del Mar Fairgrounds was chosen, as it was the closest location that had the necessary capacity. TCA agreed to this new location in advance."
Either way, the truth is that maximizing attendance at a public hearing is a good thing. If the TCA is so upset that the majority of attendees opposed their project, they should have paid their Laborers' Union goons to stay for the whole day. If nothing else, they're hardworking folk who could use the TCA money. Plus, it's more taxpayer money the TCA can spend on the project without using it on construction, allowing them to maintain their hysterical claim that no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the CONSTRUCTION of the road. Aren't words fun?
But I digress.
Thornton must have the imagination of a vole as he claims the hearing "can only be described as a circus atmosphere at which supporters of the Project were booed and jeered by Project opponents."
"Over a hundred individuals and more than a dozen elected officials who support the Project were not given an opportunity to express their views ... In contrast to the Commission's treatment of  supporters, the Commission Chair invited  opponents to conduct a demonstration during the hearing."
You don't make the rules, Thornton. The LA Times did report that "outside Wyland Hall, hundreds of people milled about in a carnival atmosphere. Booths set up by the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation and other environmental groups dispensed anti-tollway literature while concessionaires sold coffee, mochas and lattes." The Register had this to say on the so-called carnivalesque environment:
Each side laid out its case throughout the day as a chanting, sign-toting crowd looked on, trying to quietly pantomime their approval or disapproval, as instructed by commission Chairman Patrick Kruer, but occasionally breaking out into cheers or boos.
Wow. I can honestly say without hyperbole that it sounds worse than Woodstock, Vietnam and Baghdad all rolled into one. Or not. And that demonstration Thornton mentions? It was actually a parade of toll road opponents who GAVE UP their speaking time so the commission would have more time to deliberate. It resembled a demonstration only in that their numbers were so vast that it took quite a while for them all to file past the podium.
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So where does Michael Dukakis fit into all of this?
In the April 4 Sacramento Bee, Dukakis argues that the Coastal Commission's veto of the toll road "may have been bad news for those who like to build and drive on crowded freeways, but it was great news for the traveling public." Why? High-speed rail, that's why!
"The $1 billion [the toll road's] sponsors wanted to spend on a toll road could go a long way toward paying for the cost of that portion of the state's high-speed rail plan that could take travelers from Los Angeles to San Diego in 55 minutes and from Irvine to either of those cities in less than a half-hour while eliminating a lot of congestion on Interstate 5, not only in Orange County but along the entire route."
Irvine to LA in under 30 minutes, huh? Aside from the environmental concerns associated with high-speed rail construction, it sounds like a nice thought. Or does it? Let us know.