SAN DIEGO — After more than six hours of presentations and public comments, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 3-2 at the June 19 meeting to oppose its staff’s recommendation to adopt the waste discharge requirements for a 5.5-mile extension of state Route 241, a toll road in south Orange County.
The marathon event was a continuation of a seven-hour March meeting that included testimony from stakeholders such as the Save San Onofre Coalition, project developer Transportation Corridor Agencies, elected officials and surfers, some from Encinitas, Oceanside and Solana Beach.
There were concerns the project did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, so the board extended the March meeting to allow time to evaluate comments made and prepare responses to issues raised.
Based on responses from TCA on questions submitted by the board, water agency staff and attorneys concluded the CEQA documentation was adequate and recommended approval.
TCA used a 2006 environmental impact report for plans that would have extended the roadway to Interstate 5. That project was denied in 2008 by the California Coastal Commission and Department of Commerce.
Plans call to end the 5.5-mile stretch at Cow Camp Road. Opponents said TCA was trying to “circumvent” the earlier denial and the addition was the first segment to bring the roadway to I-5 so a new EIR should have been completed.
Supporters said it was a modification to the 2006 plan so a new EIR wasn’t required.
Of the hundreds of people who packed the meeting room, lobby and overflow library, 57 spoke. Of them, 36 opposed the project, also called the Tesoro extension. They included San Diego District 3 Supervisor Dave Roberts, Solana Beach City Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, former San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye and former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.
“It is very clear to me that construction of the first section of this toll road is simply a precursor to building the entire road down to San Onofre State Beach, a park that is located entirely within San Diego County,” Roberts said.
“I’ve seen this strategy again and again,” he added. “Don’t be fooled. … Orange County has a traffic problem it can’t expect San Diego to solve.”
Heebner said she was “stunned” toll road discussions were continuing, calling the current project a “repackaged miniroad format.”
“CEQA does not allow a project to be piecemealed,” she said. “What is before you is a … piece of a larger project, obviously, as this 5-mile stretch goes nowhere.
“If the entire road is built, and obviously that is the intent, it would destroy one of Southern California’s remaining stretches of coastal wild lands and impair coastal access to the beach.”
“The most precious resource we have is water,” Slater-Price said. “It is our duty and your responsibility to protect that.” She added that the oceans are overburdened with pollution and trash “but a life source for us.”
Oceanside City Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said that city opposes the project, but her colleague Gary Felien said anything that relieves traffic congestion is good. He asked water board members to base their decision on “science and law, not hysteria.”
Other supporters included council members from several Orange County cities, such as Mission Viejo, Yorba Linda and Rancho Santa Margarita.
San Juan Capistrano Mayor Sam Allevato, noting the extension has been called “a road to nowhere,” said it would end just north of his city and provide traffic mobility to the 35,000 residents who live there as well as those in the proposed 14,000-home Rancho Mission Viejo project.
“We’re pretty far from nowhere,” he said. “This is near my historic city, not (San Onofre State Beach).”
Other proponents said the extension is critical to the economy as well as traffic mobility. They said TCA went “above and beyond” environmental mitigation, noting the roadway would be built with swales and permeable asphalt that will remove 90 percent of automotive pollutants before going through a sand filter that removes another 90 percent.
“I wish all roads could be this environmentally sensitive,” Mission Viejo Mayor Rhonda Reardon said.
Testimony was supposed to focus on water issues since it was a Water Quality Control Board meeting, but comments also addressed traffic policies and sacred sites.
Although the proposed extension is miles from the beach, several speakers were Surfrider Foundation members who accused TCA of planning to eventually bring the roadway to I-5, which would impact Trestles, the collection of world-famous surf spots.
In the end, board members agreed with that interpretation.
“I do not think we were presented with the project,” Sharon Kalemkiarian said. “I don’t believe the project is Tesoro. It’s the entire highway. … No alternatives are being presented.”
Henry Abarbanel agreed.
Gary Strawn said even though he didn’t like the project, he reluctantly would support it because the task was to look at what was presented, not what board members thought it was. Eric Anderson supported that notion.
Chairman Tomas Morales was the last to speak. “I should have gone first,” he said when it was obvious his vote would be the deciding one.
Morales said during recent fires the 241 was the only road available for him to return home to his children so he understood the need for a number of roads for safety reasons.
“But I can’t let that be part of my decision,” he said, adding that he also believed the full project wasn’t presented to the board or staff. “It is with a lot of reluctance that I can’t support this,” he said.
“Certainly we’re very disappointed,” Lisa Telles, a spokeswoman for TCA, said. “The problem has not gone away. We still have critical traffic issues in Orange County.”
Telles said she couldn’t comment on the next step, but TCA attorney Robert Thornton said, “There’s a procedure to go to the state (water) board.”