Illustration by Matt Bors
Illustration by Matt Bors

Toll Road Rage: Ken Ryan and Friends

Ken Ryan is no hack. He's worked for two decades as an urban planner for EDAW, the global design firm behind the Arrowhead Pond, Chapman University and the Port of Los Angeles. So you've got to wonder what's up when Ryan, also a Yorba Linda councilman and toll-road official, gets sloppy with language.

Speaking Feb. 23 after the Transportation Corridor Agencies board approved extending the Foothill/Eastern toll road through San Onofre State Park to the very edge of Trestles Beach, Ryan said the vote reflects "our simple mission statement . . . and that is enhancing mobility, but not doing so at the expense of the environment."

First, critics rightly consider the 241 extension project an environmental disaster. Second, the TCA's mission statement says nothing about the environment. In its totality, the mission statement reads, "Enhance mobility in Orange County and Southern California by developing and operating publicly owned toll facilities as a part of the regional transportation system."

So clearly Ryan misspoke. Or he intentionally misrepresented the nature and purpose of the TCA. Why would he want to do that?

Check Ryan's background, and you'll see Ryan is connected to the sorts of people who would indeed regard building a freeway as a form of tree-hugging.

As a principal for EDAW (Eckbo, Dean, Austin and Williams), Ryan is working on the Carrari Ranch Project in San Bernardino County, on land belonging to G. Miller Development Co., owned by Congressman Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar). Miller is the same congressman whom Congressman Ken Calvert (R-Corona) thanked for his work on the 2006 Transportation Equity Act, which diverts $8 million in federal funds to the 241 project—despite the fact the toll road is supposed to be a private venture. It was classic pork: the act also included $2 million for sound walls in Yorba Linda and Anaheim; Ryan, Miller and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle gathered on Feb. 17, 2004, in an Anaheim mobile-home park to commemorate the occasion.

In a 2002 Riverside Press-Enterprise article, Ryan is listed as a spokesman for Lytle Development. In the 2004 election, Lytle Development was Miller's top donor.

In 2003, Congressman Miller requested more than $3 million to build a pedestrian bridge over the Imperial Highway in Yorba Linda, where his friend Ryan was known as "Mayor Ryan." Miller was also one of five signatories to a Feb. 17 letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in support of the 241. The other four? Calvert, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and John Campbell (R-Irvine). Miller, Calvert and Rohrabacher all list real-estate firms as their top campaign contributors in 2004.

Ryan isn't shy about his history with Miller. "I'm proud of our relationship," he told the Weekly. "I've been an urban planner for 20 years."

And there's nothing illegal about representatives earmarking money for their district. According to Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, "That's how congressmen get re-elected."

And it explains why Ryan sees the 241 extension as environmentally benign.

As does this: in San Francisco in 2004, Ryan warned a real-estate trade group about the dangers . . . not of Muslim fanatics but of environmentalists. Ryan presented "Green Collar Crime" with Tim Paone and Laer Pearce; Pearce runs his own Laguna Hills PR firm specializing in real-estate development. You may remember that he advocated a housing development in a former sand/gravel mine that doubled as a Santiago Creek flood plain. He is similarly bullish about the 241. Last fall, when Congress made way for the road by eliminating critical habitat protections in the San Mateo Canyon (in a bill co-sponsored by—you guessed it—Miller), Pearce told the Los Angeles Times the action was "fabulous. It's absolutely fabulous." At the time, Pearce was executive director of the Coalition for Habitat Conservation, which includes such environmental groups as the Irvine Co., Rancho Mission Viejo and Lennar Homes.

"Green Collar Crime" was basically a builder's battle plan. In it, among other tactics, Ryan, Paone and Pearce recommend that builders simply label everything "green." That's precisely what the TCA did when it called its final plan for the 241 the "green" alignment.

"Green"? The California Coastal Commission will be the judge of that. In July 2004, the commission warned the TCA, "We do not believe any of these three San Mateo Creek alignment alternatives could reasonably be determined the least environmentally damaging feasible alternative, given their significant and unmitigable adverse effects to one of the most, if not the most, undeveloped and pristine coastal watersheds in southern California."


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