A state bill that would prohibit building roads in state parks has been shelved until next year because of the controversy over construction of the Foothill South toll road through San Onofre State Beach.
The delay is a reprieve for Orange County toll road builders, who had fiercely opposed the bill because it threatened their preferred route for the Foothill South.
But postponing a vote on the bill until next year has little impact on moving forward on the project, which entails a lengthy process still in the early stages.
Mike Stockstill, a spokesman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, said the environmental impact study for the project is still a year away from completion--the next step toward the go-ahead to build the road.
"This won't change that process," added agency lobbyist John Foran. "It's a temporary victory."
The proposed 16-mile toll road is needed to alleviate traffic on Interstate 5 in South County, its backers say. But opponents say the road will harm the park's ecology and lead to development of some of the last unspoiled land in the county.
The San Onofre State Beach park, on Camp Pendleton land leased to the state, is home to seven endangered species and has a popular family campground.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), decided Thursday to delay action on the measure. Hayden said he had the votes in the Senate but would rather not try to push it through the Assembly in the hectic last month of the session.
Others, however, suggested Hayden lacked support for his bill.
"I don't think he had the votes," Foran said.
In addition to fierce opposition from the Orange County toll road agencies, the California League of Cities and the Southern California Assn. of Governments, Hayden faced resistance from fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Dunn of Santa Ana.
Dunn recently got involved in the fray in an effort to negotiate an alternative route that would avoid the park.
Dunn said that if the measure had come up in the Senate, he would have asked others to vote against it to allow more time to work on a compromise.
Although no progress has been made, Dunn said he will continue to meet with the two groups over the summer, using the pending bill as leverage to strike a deal.
Environmentalists say postponing a vote until next year gives them time to gain public support for the proposition that roads do not belong in state parks.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Road Bill Holds
State Sen. Tom Hayden has decided to delay action on his bill that would prevent building roads in state parks. Fellow Democrat Sen. Joe Dunn is trying to negotiate an alternative to a proposed road that would bisect San Onofre State Beach.