Bob Aul illustration
Bob Aul illustration

Toll Road Rage: What Your Mimi Doesn't Know

Mimi Walters pushed to the front of a line, and now she might wish she'd waited her turn.

Walters is a state assemblywoman whose 73rd district, which stretches from Oceanside to Laguna Hills, includes the spot where toll road officials envision a new horror: the construction of a road that will likely destroy Trestles, known worldwide as the Yosemite of Surfing. Trestles has no Ansel Adams or John Muir (not yet) but in Walters it may have found its anti-hero. On Nov. 3, she was prepared to tell a state parks panel why she supports the Transportation Corridor Agencies' (TCA) plan to extend the 241 toll road to a place just shy of Trestles. But the San Clemente Community Center was packed with over a thousand noisy critics of the toll road. Speakers came and went; time flew by in two-minute intervals, and then Walters pulled rank. She had somewhere to go, she told the panel. Couldn't they let her cut in front of the dozens of other mere citizens hoping to address the commissioners?

Onlookers who hoped that Walters would understand a massive public works project in her own district, expected that she has her finger on the pulse of her constituency, prayed that she knows at least what she's talking about, were in for a serious disappointment.

MIMI SAID: Widening the I-5 will require the destruction of 1,000 homes and businesses.

REALITY CHECK: According to a report prepared for the State Parks Foundation by Smart Mobility, TCA failed to document how it came up with its figure of 898 displaced homes. The report called that number "unrealistically high."

MIMI SAID: The 241 will not affect any beach campsites.

REALITY CHECK: According to the TCA's own draft environmental impact survey (DEIS), the impacts to visual quality and community character for users of San Onofre State Beach will be substantially adverse and significant before mitigation, and still significant after.

MIMI SAID: The only state parks campground that will be affected is San Mateo Campground, the site bordered by the I-5, which serves as an overflow campground when more popular beach campsites are full.

REALITY CHECK: According to the State Parks Commission, San Mateo Campground is fully booked within minutes of reservations becoming available, about 6 months in advance. State Parks Commissioner Caryl Hart put it best: "I'm not sure we're even talking about the same place."

MIMI SAID:The land [San Onofre State Park] is not owned by the State Parks, it's federal land owned by the Marines, leased to the state parks.

REALITY CHECK: In 1971 State Parks leased the land from the U.S. Government for 50 years, until 2021. In an Aug. 2 letter to TCA, State Parks director Ruth Coleman wrote, "Through our long-term lease with the DON [Department of the Navy], our Department has management responsibility for the use of this land, and any implication that we have a lesser role to play in future plans or the stewardship of its resources is inaccurate. Please remove all references that imply as such." According to Article 3 of the Lease Agreement between the Navy and State Parks, "The Leased Property shall be used, maintained, protected and preserved by the Lessee in accordance with good management practices as a public park and not otherwise."

MIMI SAID:Should the state park decide to close the campground, that is their decision, not TCA's.

REALITY CHECK: The DEIS prediction of significant impact especially applies to San Mateo Campground. According to State Parks regional superintendent Rich Rozelle, "San Mateo Campground will be impacted by the construction of an 8-lane freeway adjacent to it. That would cause Cristianitos Road to be shifted closer to the campground." State Parks will no longer regard it as a site of statewide significance, and tourists are unlikely to camp there. In other words, it may shut down. Even the best management practices can't run a campsite without money.

Two speakers later, Greg Sayer began his allotted time ironically, saying, "Thanks Mimi for the research, we can tell you're very concerned." He called the toll road ludicrous: "I'm absolutely willing to sacrifice my drive time to maintain a pristine wilderness."


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