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LAGUNA BEACH : March Planned to Protest Toll Road

Thirteen months after 7,500 people turned out in Laguna Canyon to oppose a proposed housing development, a city activist announced Wednesday that she is planning a similar march to protest a planned toll road.

The San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor is expected to go through Laguna Canyon near the site where the 3,200-home Laguna Laurel development was once to be built. That plan was abandoned after the city and the Irvine Co. agreed that Laguna Beach would buy the land, and voters approved a $20-million bond for the down payment.

Although the city has opposed the toll road for a decade, the issue was shelved during the Laguna Laurel purchase talks. This week, some city officials expressed reservations that another demonstration should be held in two months, as proposed.

But Beth Leeds, who held a press conference Wednesday at the toll road right of way to announce her plans, said the time is right. She said that she expects people to show up for the protest walk and that she has already begun sticking shiny red hearts on canyon trees to herald the proposed February demonstration.

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“I’m sure people are burned out on saving the canyon,” she said, “because every time we try to save it, they throw another monkey wrench in our faces. (But) even if they are burned out, they’re going to stand up.”

But Laguna Beach Mayor Neil G. Fitzpatrick said negotiations should come first. A reduction in the size of the toll road could reduce opposition to the plan, he said.

“I think we need to meet again with the people involved with the corridor,” he said. “Rather than to go out on a confrontational basis right now, I think we need to have some dialogue right now.”

Councilman Robert F. Gentry said the road will be discussed Monday, after members of the Laguna Laurel Advisory group, formed to negotiate the canyon land plan, review a legal document that formalizes that agreement.

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“It’s become a more complex land-use decision for me now,” said Gentry, who has staunchly opposed the corridor.

“The city has not revisited its position on the toll road for a long time,” he said. “My position hasn’t changed, but it may with more information.”

The corridor would have three lanes in each direction, plus a median. It would be about 15 miles long, from the Costa Mesa Freeway to Interstate 5 at Avery Parkway, near the Mission Viejo-San Juan Capistrano border.

A spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Transportation Corridor Agency, which is to build the road, acknowledged the opposition but said an equal number of people are eager for traffic relief.

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“There’s not a chance that they’ll stop the toll road,” Donna Stubbs said.

Stubbs attended Wednesday’s press conference to view what Leeds called illegal grading that has already taken place.

Stubbs, however, said the grading has nothing to do with the road.

Proponents of the November, 1989, walk to support the Laguna Laurel proposal agree that a second march would require the support of the city, environmental groups and residents countywide. Members of Laguna Greenbelt and the Laguna Canyon Conservancy said they do not know about a February walk but would consider supporting it.

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“Why wait to negotiate?” said Elisabeth Brown, president of Laguna Greenbelt. “There’re a lot of problems with this thing, and in the last two years we haven’t seen any movement.”

“All of us supported the last walk,” Councilwoman Martha Collison said. “If there’s a purpose behind the walk, people will do it.”

Councilwoman Lida Lenney, instrumental in organizing the November walk, said her position against the corridor has not changed.

Protest walks are a good way to call attention to an issue, she said.

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