Sunday, May 13, 2007

Who's Afraid of Obeying the Law?

(Cross-posted at the California Progress Report)

(Cross-posted at the California Progress Report)

Yesterday, The Orange County Register's editorial page took aim at Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) for supporting an amendment to a defense authorization bill that would simply require the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA), the public-private organization that operates Orange County's toll roads, to follow state environmental laws as TCA considers plans to extend the 241 Toll Road through South Orange County. Even though this amendment only asks TCA to follow the letter of the law in extending the 241, The Register seems to think that any request for TCA to extend its toll roads legally somehow adds to Orange County's traffic woes. How does compliance with California state law cause additional traffic in Orange County? And why should TCA be afraid of the law?

The Register's editorial begins with outright falsehoods, and devolves into complete absurdity.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies for 20 years have been working on an extension of the Foothill (241) Toll Road from Oso Parkway to the I-5, a route that would skirt through a portion of San Onofre State Park, on Navy-owned land near the San Diego County line. The extension wouldn't harm the heavily visited oceanfront portion of the park, but it would relieve the increasing congestion that often results in the I-5 resembling a giant parking lot rather than a freeway.

Sorry, but this simply isn't true. Not only would the "oceanfront portion of the park" suffer huge damage as a result of what happens upstream, but the entire park would be obliterated. It would alter the sediment flow of San Mateo Creek, thereby destroying the world-famous waves of Trestles. It would destroy the habitat of at least seven endangered species, including the California gnatcatcher, the Southern California Steelhead Trout, and the Arroyo toad. Their native habitat would be gone if TCA were to have its way. All of this clearly violates the Coastal Act. Is this what TCA is afraid of?

What would all this ecological destruction do to alleviate traffic in South Orange County? Nothing. All this environmental damage would result in no traffic relief for South Orange County. So what is the point of building a toll road to Trestles if it does not actually do anything about traffic? Is this what TCA is afraid of?

The Register editorial goes on to distort Rep. Sanchez's views on extending the 241, and distort what extending the 241 to Trestles would actually do to ease local traffic.

Rep. Sanchez said in media reports that she doesn't want to stop the toll road - although environmental groups on her side said that was their goal. Toll road supporters point to stacks of environmental impact reports and other documents produced over two decades to gain state approval for the plan, thus disputing claims that the toll road somehow skirts the state's environmental review process.

The Democratic-backed measure Rep. Sanchez voted for is different from the original one proposed by Rep. Davis, which would have clearly stopped the road by rescinding the Navy's authority to grant an easement to toll road operators. Still, it's too bad that a local congresswoman would join efforts to add to rather than reduce traffic congestion in Orange County.

Loretta Sanchez has said that she does not want to stop the toll road, and that's the simple truth. She simply wants TCA to comply with state environmental laws in extending the 241. Is this what TCA is afraid of?

The Register editorial page simply doesn't get it. TCA should not be allowed to ignore state environmental laws in order to build a toll road to nowhere that does nothing to ease traffic. Actually, TCA should not be allowed to ignore state environmental laws, period. That's all that Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez were trying to say. That's all that the House Armed Services Committee voted to say last week. TCA must not violate California state environmental laws by building a toll road through a state park.

This struggle over the toll road to Trestles has been a long one, but it's actually not just about this one toll road to Trestles. It's about preserving our public parks for the use and enjoyment of the public. If TCA gets its toll road to Trestles, this park simply couldn't survive as the campgrounds would be closed (to make way for the toll road) and the beach ruined (due to the toll road). California State Parks wouldn't be able to renew the lease when it comes up in 2021, and once the military is ready to sell, the developers would be ready to buy. And if this park goes, which one is next? Which park would we allow to be opened next for a toll road, or a freeway, or a few hundred new houses, or a multi-million dollar luxury resort?

This is what TCA is afraid of. Once people realize the threat, they get it. Our public open spaces should remain open for all the public to enjoy. That's why we have state parks in California. That's why San Onofre State Beach exists. This parks belongs to us for us to use, not for TCA to abuse. TCA and The Register editorial page simply don't get it. But fortunately Susan Davis, Loretta Sanchez, and most of their colleagues in Congress do get it. Let's hope that Congress follows through in requiring TCA to obey the law, and allowing all of us to continue enjoying our open spaces.

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