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In the News

OC Register: Rep. Darrell Issa opposes proposed toll road extension scenarios in South County

In The News
Jul 11, 2017
NOTE: "Issa, in a July 7 letter to the TCA, came out against potential 241 alignments being opposed by San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Mission Viejo and Ladera Ranch. Issa said those routes would divide communities, risk destroying community character and threaten added congestion on key thoroughfares."
Rep. Darrell Issa opposes proposed toll road extension scenarios in South County
July 11, 2017
OC Register
By: Fred Swegles

South Orange County’s congressman says he agrees with residents in his district who don’t want their towns bisected by a toll road, and he is prepared to pursue a potential federal alternative – Camp Pendleton.

A key question, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said, is whether the Transportation Corridor Agency’s Nov. 10 lawsuit settlement with environmental groups can be set aside, allowing a 241 Toll Road connection to I-5 at San Onofre.

Issa, in a July 7 letter to the TCA, came out against potential 241 alignments being opposed by San ClementeSan Juan CapistranoRancho Mission Viejo and Ladera Ranch. Issa said those routes would divide communities, risk destroying community character and threaten added congestion on key thoroughfares.

Issa’s letter came a day after Dan Bane, a San Clemente attorney, sent a letter to the TCA asserting that the lawsuit settlement violated California’s open-meeting law.

Bane said the TCA board approved the settlement in closed session, without public input. He said the settlement’s creation of an “avoidance area” – where the TCA would agree to never fund or build a road – could not be enacted without a public hearing and public input.

The TCA is evaluating potential 241 routes that are opposed by the Ladera Ranch Civic Council, Rancho Mission Viejo and two City Councils – San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente.

Another route option in the study is an alignment that would go behind all of the communities and behind the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy to connect to I-5 at San Onofre, similar to a route that the California Coastal Commission and the Commerce Department rejected in 2008.

It would go through the newly designated avoidance zone on land that San Onofre State Beach leases from Camp Pendleton. But the park’s lease expires within five years, Issa said, and he believes the Navy Department would then facilitate a road alignment based on a 1987 memorandum still in effect.

Issa said such a road would comply with federal laws and could be designed to not adversely impact Camp Pendleton’s training mission, public recreation or the environment. It could provide additional mitigations to help the state park, he said, and the he believes the Coastal Commission – “misused in this case” – would not be insurmountable.

Issa’s letter came on the same day that the South Orange County Economic Coalition put out an e-mail inviting its members and the business community to send a form letter to the TCA asking for traffic relief.

“The southernmost part of Orange County is the only area that offers no alternate route to the often-congested I-5 freeway,” the letter said.

It continued, “I am disappointed that some communities and elected officials have chosen to either remain on the sidelines or literally throw roadblocks in the way of transportation alternatives, but I hope you understand that the vast majority of South Orange County residents want and need traffic relief solutions and that we strongly support the unrelenting efforts of TCA and its transportation agency partners.”

The letter advocated “infrastructure built responsibly that minimizes community impacts while allowing our customers, clients, employees, friends, family and neighbors to travel more freely, get to their job and get home to their families quickly.”

Issa, in his letter to the TCA, said “it is imperative that if an additional highway is to be constructed in this highly populous region, that it have as minimal an impact as possible on surrounding residents. The current proposals do not accomplish this objective and should be rejected outright.”

State Senator Patricia Bates and Assemblyman Bill Brough issued statements in June against the 241 route options, saying they “could irreparably harm the quality of life of affected communities.”

The Capistrano Unified School District board issued a resolution saying the district believes the current alignments “would irreparably impair” school sites and impact students.

Mission Viejo’s City Council released a support letter for “the TCA’s efforts to identify a balanced solution to relieving regional and particularly north-south traffic congestion, which we believe must include an SR-241 to I-5 connection.”

The letter said San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente have obstructed efforts and expressed hope they will join with other south county cities working to incorporate TCA “network connections through our cities to alleviate traffic congestion for the region.”

San Clemente Mayor Kathy Ward, who represents San Clemente on the TCA board, said the city is preparing a letter of response.

Ward said she felt the settlement process was not done properly and she would like to have been able to discuss its merits. “I found out about it the day it happened,” she said. “We didn’t even have time to read it. I don’t sign things I don’t read.”

The TCA board’s vote was 10-2, with Ward and San Juan Capistrano’s then-representative on the TCA board, Mayor Kerry Ferguson, dissenting.

San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott, who now represents San Juan on the TCA board, had no comment when asked about the Issa and Bane letters. He said a challenge to the settlement agreement could involve litigation.

Regarding the 241 options, Maryott said “it’s pretty tricky to speculate about individual routes. With no real technical merit, they are just ideas. What is unfolding now is a feasibility study. I suspect that a number of these proposed alternatives are not going to make the cut as being practical or possible. But I don’t want to speculate on them individually.”

Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, coastal preservation manager at the Surfrider Foundation, which is a party to the settlement agreement, said she had not heard of a challenge. She suggested it is unlikely a new push for the 241 to I-5 within the San Onofre recreational lands would succeed.

“Any suggestion of going through the park would reopen a 15-year battle that involves millions of people who use the park and thousands of people who have vocally opposed a road through San Onofre State Park,” she said. “Both the Bush Administration and the State of California have summarily rejected a road through a state park.”

Read more in the Orange County Register here.

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