Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Speeding Our Way to Trestles on the 241

Last night, the Orange County Democratic Central Committee narrowly approved a resolution opposing the extension of the 241 toll road through San Onofre State Beach. The vote was 30 in favor, and 26 against. Environmentalists from South County rose to the podium to demonstrate how the 241 extension through San Onofre would destroy the world-famous beach that everyone so loves. Soon after, labor leaders rose to the podium to stress to everyone that this project means good union jobs, and that to lose this project would mean losing these good union jobs. Even after the vote had been completed, the controversy remained. Frank Barbaro, the DPOC Chairman, even asked both sides to come to the next Executive Board meeting early so they can all work out some sort of compromise that everyone could live with. Amazing how one little resolution could cause so much strife...

But it isn't just one little resolution. It is about a contentious stretch of land that can either bring good jobs and an easier commute, or a great beach and great wildlife, depending on who one asks. So what's the big deal about this? Follow me after the flip and see why this all matters (and yes, I have more photos for you as well)...

So what's the big deal about this toll road extention? After all, business AND labor seem to be united in wanting the 241 extension completed. For local businesses in South County, this means improving traffic congestion and the movement of goods between San Diego and Orange Counties. And for the building and trades unions, this means 21,000 new UNION construction jobs. So what's not to love about this deal? It looks like a win-win situation for business and labor...

But wait! What about San Mateo Creek? What about all the new pollutants that would flow into Trestles as a result of the new 241? After all, what makes Trestles Beach so special is that San Mateo Creek flows freely into the ocean here... And that all of that water is CLEAN AND UNSPOILED! And while we are talking about San Mateo Creek, what about all that inland park land that would instantly vanish if the toll road were to be built here? 60% of the acreage would have to be closed to make way for the toll road extension. Isn't that why the California SEIU opposes the 241 extension through San Onofre?

But wait! Do people even care about the inland portion of the park? People go to San Onofre for the beach, not the campground. And weren't the other toll road and non-toll road alternatives already analyzed? Wouldn't the alternative route of widening the 5 in San Clemente mean the destruction of some 800 homes and nearly 400 businesses? Wouldn't some 5,000 jobs be eliminated if the 5 were to be widened?

And come on, didn't the Marines already authorize this project. After all, Camp Pendleton is a military base, and the state is only leasing San Onofre from the federal government. So now that Congress has authorized the Marines to allow the TCA to build the 241 extension, should we really try to stop progress?

But wait! So San Diego County doesn't matter in this whole process? After all, the last four miles of the 241 toll road extension do cross the Orange County line into San Diego County. And no, the project has not received approval from SANDAG. In fact, no one in San Diego has had any say in the proposed 241 extension. Even though North San Diego County residents would be the ones suffering the additional southbound traffic on the 5, they have not had any chance to offer their two cents on what the TCA likes to think is a purely Orange County project.

And wait! Will this damn toll road even do anything to ease congestion on the 5 through South County? According to new traffic studies, NO!!! The LA Times reported on this last November:

New traffic studies contradict optimistic predictions that a proposed tollway through San Onofre State Beach would eliminate much of the congestion on Interstate 5 in South County.

Most of I-5 in South County will be "consistently congested" at rush hour by 2030 even if the controversial Foothill South toll road extension is built, according to the Orange County Transportation Authority's long-range transportation plan for 2006.

The forecasts assume construction of the tollway, a carpool lane each way on the I-5 and some interchange improvements. If only the tollway is built, the study suggests, the situation will be even worse, with motorists on the interstate seeing "severely congested" conditions.

So if this toll road extension destroys an important wildlife habitat, puts the jobs of San Onofre park employees at risk, ruins a great campground, annihilates one of the last great unspoiled beaches in Southern California, and doesn't even do a damn thing to ease traffic, then what good is it? After all, there are better alternatives. We can connect the 241 to the 5 AND the 73 at Laguna Niguel, and avoid the San Onofre wilderness while actually connecting South County commuters to where they want to go in OC! Additionally, we can do away with the non-compete agreement with the TCA that only serve to enrich the toll road operators while doing nothing for the people of Orange County. And perhaps if we start putting into practice better urban planning in South County, we won't have to worry about losing the beautiful wild spaces that make South County living so fantastic.

While I do feel for the Orange County unions, I really don't think that they will lose any jobs if we go with any of the alternative options. And especially if we just connect the 241 to the 73, then we have a true win-win situation that works for labor, the environment, business, AND South County commuters. How could one not love that? And besides, with these great alternatives, why should we ignore them just to build this great boondoggle to San Onofre that would destroy this great stretch of coast.

Go ahead and look at my pictures again, and try to tell me why.

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

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