They Didn't Pave Paradise: The top 10 reasons why the Foothill South Toll Road extension failed
On Feb. 6, the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to deny the Transportation Corridor Agencies' (TCA) application for a Coastal Permit to build the Foothill South (Highway 241) toll-road extension. This was no surprise, as troubles with both the road and the TCA are legion. Now, this symphony of crap may yet have its coda: The TCA has appealed the decision to the Secretary of Commerce. But for now, here are 10 major reasons behind the road's downfall:
1. DOLLA DOLLA BILL, Y'ALL.The Coastal Commission calls San Mateo Creek "one of the most, if not the most, undeveloped and pristine coastal watersheds in Southern California." Rather than consider it priceless, the TCA offered a $100 million package to the California Department of Parks and Recreation to soothe the chafing-$30 million for various good works and $70 million to extend the San Onofre State Park lease from the Department of the Navy. Two problems: 1) The lease doesn't expire until 2021, and 2) there's no reason to suspect the Navy will charge the Department of Parks and Recreation any more than the $1 they charged for the first 50-year lease. So it's really a $30 million offer to destroy a state park.
2. FOOTHILL-SOUTH TRAFFIC SANCTUARY.The toll road might have succeeded if it stood a chance to reduce traffic. But as the 73 (San Joaquin) toll road proves, toll roads generate, rather than relieve, traffic. Land near interchanges becomes extremely valuable, as traffic is always light on the toll roads. Thus, lush office and commercial space opens up alongside sprawling multicar single-home developments (like the 14,000 homes planned in Rancho Mission Viejo). Where do you think all those cars go when they're not on toll roads?
3. FROM SUCK TO BLOW. Congressmen Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) and Ken Calvert (R-Corona) once fought for riders and earmarks for TCA, gaining the agencies exemptions from state law and millions in taxpayer dollars for so-called "environmental studies" that we now know to have been useless. Calvert also let a prostitute study the environment of his lap in Corona one night, until the cops arrived. Now the congressmen are too busy with their own problems to help the TCA; both have ties to convicted ex-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham and the under-investigation current Congressman Jerry Lewis (Lewis, Calvert and Miller form what the California Democratic Party calls the "Triangle of Corruption"), and both were listed in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's "20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress" report in 2006.
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4. YOSEMITE v. 2.0. In November 2005, an official with the Association of Surfing Professionals told the Weekly how any change in the waves at Trestles, the "Yosemite of surfing" and the only stop in mainland USA for the World Championship of Surfing, would "definitely bring Trestles' inclusion on the [tour] into question." Not any negative impact to the waves-any change. The TCA argued that while sediment flow would be reduced and water speeds increased down the river, the result would equal the same. The same, except different. Changed.
5. BIG JUANEÑO-NO. California Government Code 5097.9 makes it illegal to disturb a sacred Native American site on public land. While TCA didn't seem too worried that the entire footprint of the sacred Juaneño/Acjachemen site of Panhe is directly in the path of the toll road, the agencies have no choice but to worry about the miniscule, fenced 5-acre parcel the government allocated the tribes-the site lies fewer than 50 feet from where Cristianitos Road would be rerouted for the 241. To build without disturbing this site will be ludicrously expensive, if not impossible.
6. ECO-FRIENDLY, MONEY FRIENDLIER. The TCA advertised the San Mateo Creek alignment as the "Green Alignment," as if to suggest it was environmentally friendly. However, this was nothing but a reference to the color-coding of the specific route-alignment choice. In the end, it merely added to suspicions that the TCA wanted that particular alignment all along, choosing the colors as a marketing device. According to the Coastal Commission staff, "It would be difficult to imagine a moreenvironmentally damaging alternative location for the proposed toll road."
7. DON'T MESS WITH BIG DICK. Dick O'Neill once ran Rancho Mission Viejo along with the California Democratic Party. The 241 would carve through a significant portion of the land reserve set aside for his late wife, the Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy. The land was also set aside as mitigation for the Talega development, raising the thorny issue of mitigating mitigation. The TCA is going to pave through land already set aside to compensate for development? Not if Dick can help it.
8. IT LOOKED GOOD ON PAPER. The TCA's environmental-impact report is the cause of—and solution to—all their problems. On one hand, it seems to comply with the law-by receiving comments from all the various agencies and groups involved in the project, TCA can say it's "working" with everyone. On the other hand, a quick perusal of the Response to Comments document reveals the problem: The TCA brushes off almost every major complaint or demand, arguing that issues have been dealt with or are "not significant." Turns out the only things that aren't significant are the TCA's environmental studies.
9. CRAFTY LIKE A DEAD FOX. In "Kill the Cougar" (June 10, 2004), Scott Giffin told Weekly readers of the 241's efficacy as a killer of mountain lions. In 2008, Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan described the project's management plan as a "plan to drive the Pacific pocket mouse into extinction." Camp Pendleton's planning documents describe endangered species and habitat as "encroachment threats." Maybe it's not an accident this road would destroy the environment. Less endangered species equals more potential development, right? Too bad it's illegal to kill stuff that's endangered.
10. ALL HAIL WALL STREET. Since the creation of the money pit called the San Joaquin Hills toll road in the late '90s, the biggest winner in Orange County's toll-road game has been Wall Street investment houses, who've nabbed hundreds of millions in fees for selling and reselling us massive debt. The big loser? Local taxpayers, who sat by quietly while elected officials allowed the TCA to gain "non-compete" clauses that prohibited public road improvements on Interstates 405 and 5, all in the hopes of driving miserable drivers to use toll roads. The creation of a new toll road would have brought similar insanity.
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