Battle about toll road through California state park beach heats up

| 4/10/2008

The Transportation Corridor Agencies apparently didn’t like the response they got at the most recent public hearing regarding a proposed toll road through San Onofre State Beach in Southern California. At that meeting in February, the agency was met with boos and hisses by opponents of the toll project, which was ultimately rejected.

Now, in a letter of appeal to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the agency claims there is no reason to have another public hearing. the Los Angeles Times reported that the TCA also expressed its dislike for the location of the February hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds – about 50 miles from the proposed toll road. The 13-hour hearing drew about 3,000 people.

Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, told the Times that the agency is simply trying to skirt around the rules. “Part of their job is to listen to what the public has to say … but they want to quash public dialogue,” Goldstein said.

The battle over the toll road – with competing interests that include traffic relief versus environmental protection – is high-stakes and high-profile. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently decided not to reappoint two park commissioners, Clint Eastwood and Bobby Shriver, although he said the decision was not related to their opposition to the toll road.

The Orange County Register reported that the California lieutenant governor and three state senators wrote a letter April 7 to the U.S. commerce secretary. The letter stated that the federal government should not overrule the California Coastal Commission’s rejection of the proposed toll road and that the appeal should be rejected “out of hand.”

The $875 million toll road project is currently under review by the Commerce Department, which is scheduled to open a public comment period April 28.

Staff Writer Terry Scruton and Staff Editor Elizabeth Andersen contributed to this report.