Bill to prohibit San Onofre toll route put on hold

Times Staff Writers

A new legislative effort in Sacramento to restrict road construction within San Onofre State Beach and other state parks has been derailed after running into opposition from construction, labor and business.

The bill, which could ban a proposed toll road through San Onofre, was scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee last week. Its author, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, (D-San Rafael), canceled the hearing and put his bill on a two-year track, giving him time to gain support to get it through the Legislature.

Since 2001, three other legislative efforts to restrict road construction and other development in state parks died in committee.

Supporters of a toll road through San Onofre, including such groups as the Associated General Contractors of California, the Orange County Business Council, the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council and local elected officials wrote to oppose Huffman’s bill.

“What makes me particularly crazy is that this road has gone through 20 years of planning and compromises with agencies and transportation officials here in Orange County and here’s this out-of-towner trying to take away our local control,” said Lucy Dunn, chief executive of the Orange County Business Council.


San Juan Capistrano Mayor Sam Allevato expressed indignation at the thought of Huffman’s bill passing. Without the proposed Foothill South toll road, hundreds more vehicles will jam city streets during slowdowns on the nearby Interstate 5, he said.

The toll road would run 16 miles from Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita and slice through the northern half of San Onofre State Beach before connecting with Interstate 5 at Basilone Road in north San Diego County. It would pass over a marine estuary in the park.

The road needs permits from environmental agencies and the state Coastal Commission before construction can begin. Officials said construction wouldn’t start until 2011 at the earliest.

Supporters say the road is necessary to relieve growing traffic on I-5 and complete the system of tollways operated by the Transportation Corridor Agencies in Irvine. They include the Foothill Eastern and the San Joaquin Hills tollways.

Opponents say the Foothill South would degrade watersheds, wildlife habitat, water quality and recreational opportunities in one of the state’s most popular parks, which includes the world-famous Trestles surf spot.

Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation, is opposed to the Foothill South tollway and other development in state parks.

Goldstein said it appeared that Huffman’s bill did not have the votes to be passed by the Assembly committee.

“Hopefully, we will do better in the future,” Goldstein said. “We are not in any way cowed by the opponents. We have the ability to work this out.”

Huffman, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council before he joined the Legislature, said the bill was needed to protect the state park system from road projects.

His bill would grant the state Department of Parks and Recreation power to veto construction of any road cutting through or near a state park and block road improvements near parks if transportation bond money was used for construction.