Saving Trestles: Game On!

The on-again, off-again hearing on the 241 Foothill South toll road extension by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce is back on, from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22, and in an old/new home, O'Brien Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, or the same place the California Coastal Commission met, took testimony and ultimately voted 8-2 against paving Lexus lanes over state park land.

The hearing was to go off last month in the Bren Events Center until fears about the expected crowd size, coupled with a slew of competing gatherings that were expected to draw cars to the same parking spaces, caused UC Irvine to back out. More than 3,500 people showed up at the Coastal Commission's Del Mar hearing in February, and toll road foes were spreading the word on the 'net to get 5,000 out to the Bren.

Just like before, the hearing is open to all members of the public, but if you want to address the gub'ment folks, you must submit a written request via U.S. mail or commercial carrier to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by Sept. 12.


Include your full name, address and a statement that the testimony will be provided on behalf of an individual and send it to: Thomas Street, NOAA Office of General Counsel for Ocean Services, 1305 East-West Highway, Room 6111, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The Save Trestles coalition has whipped up this handy-dandy example letter:

Dear Mr. Street,

I wish to speak at the public hearing on September 22 in Del Mar, CA. I will be speaking as an individual, not representing an organization.

Thank you.

Keep in mind that speaker requests made after Sept. 12 or delivered via fax, email or voicemail will not be considered by Commerce. Details on how to submit a request to speak at the hearing are here.

Toll road foes want to line up as many opposition speakers as possible because they believe such testimony led the Coastal Commission to nix the 241 route. But the NOAA has stressed that not all requests to speak will be granted. The agency will choose a representative sampling of different viewpoints based on the requests it receives.

Advocates on both sides of the debate expressed happiness that a new hearing has been scheduled. California State Parks Foundation officials were relieved there will be a public hearing after the NOAA had indicated it did not have the budget to rent a larger venue and therefore might not take testimony at all. The Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency released a statement saying officials there are “anxiously” awaiting the hearing to publicly correct “distortion and misinformation.”

The agency and other toll road backers maintain that the 16-mile stretch of Foothill South will relieve future traffic congestion by providing the final link in the county’s network of toll roads. But the parks foundation, Save Trestles and other foes of the toll-road agency's chosen route fear that by slicing through San Onofre State Park and other South County wild lands, the toll road will kill wildlife, destroy natural habitats and turn a get-away-from-it-all campground into something akin to the traffic-choked KOA campground next to Disneyland. They also worry that sediments from toll-road construction and use could muck up Trestles, although the agency routinely produces studies and experts that say construction and freeway run-off will not adversely effect the world-class surfing beach.

The hearing by the NOAA, which is a branch of Commerce, was necessitated because the toll-road agency appealed the state Coastal Commission's rejection of the project on grounds it violates the state Coastal Act. Under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, such decisions can be appealed to the Secretary of Commerce, who can overturn the state agency if, in this case, he finds the road is in the national interest or is needed for national security. In its appeal, the toll-road agency roped in Camp Pendleton's portion of reconfigured road to argue the national security point.

Jane Luxton, the NOAA's general counsel, will preside over the hearing, but she is not expected to answer questions or render any decisions on the spot. She'll simply forward the testimony to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, who must render a decision by Dec. 22.

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