New venue sought for O.C. toll road hearing

Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine’s Bren Center, citing capacity issues, will not house a July 25 public hearing on an appeal of the rejection of the proposed Foothill South tollway through San Onofre State Beach, a federal official said in an e-mail Friday.

The route has been the focus of an intense battle between those opposed to encroachment on the state park and those backing an alternative to Interstate 5.

The California Coastal Commission rejected the proposed toll road at a raucous meeting in February attended by more than 3,500 people.


The Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies appealed the decision to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees coastal growth issues, and NOAA called for the hearing. About 5,000 people had been expected, but inquires about seating made to Bren Center pushed estimates to more than 10,000, Jane C. Luxton, NOAA’s general counsel, wrote in the e-mail.

Bren Center seats up to 4,758 people. Its withdrawal has jeopardized the hearing, Luxton wrote, adding that her agency is looking for a venue where such a crowd could be accommodated.

“If these issues cannot be resolved in the near future, the July 25 hearing may need to be canceled,” Luxton wrote.

“The scope of the event was growing to the point that it was beyond our capacity to handle in a safe way,” said Cathy Lawhon, a UC Irvine spokeswoman. “The level of inquires we were getting just led us to believe that it was going to be a much bigger event.”

Toll road officials were disappointed with the change in plans. For weeks, they had anticipated the Irvine hearing, said Lisa Telles, a spokeswoman for the toll road agency.

“Now the question is where will it be held? We’ll just wait and see,” she said.