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(SACRAMENTO) - Attorney General Bill Lockyer today filed a lawsuit to block the controversial Foothill South Toll Road, which is slated to cut through San Onofre State Beach, a state park that is home to a popular surfing spot, abuts a Native American heritage site and is one of the few remaining coastal open space areas in Southern California.
“By choosing to build a six-lane highway through San Onofre State Beach, local public officials missed an opportunity to meet the transportation needs of this growing region without sacrificing public park lands that have been protected for future generations,” said Lockyer. “ I am filing this lawsuit because these local officials chose to build the road without evaluating its toll on a state treasure.”
Lockyer filed the lawsuit on behalf of the people of California and the State Park and Recreation Commission. The complaint alleges the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA), and its board of directors, violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to adequately assess significant environmental effects of the road, failing to identify measures that could mitigate those impacts and failing to properly study alternatives that would avoid harm to the environment.
The complaint was filed in San Diego Superior Court. It asks the Court to order TCA to properly assess the environmental impact of the project and mitigate the damage it will cause, as required by CEQA.
San Onofre State Beach is visited by 2.5 million people annually, and is the fifth most popular state park. Under the TCA plan, an estimated 320 acres of San Onofre parkland would be turned over for highway use. The toll road’s path would run directly alongside a campground that is popular with middle and low income families. Park advocates warn the campground likely will be closed.
“This toll road should not cut through the heart of a state park,” said Caryl Hart, a member of the State Park and Recreation Commission. “Not only will this super highway be an ugly eyesore to a dramatic coastal view, it will bring the noise and exhaust from speeding vehicles right up to the edge of a campground. We have to take a stand to protect our treasured parklands.”
The complaint alleges that “Respondents approved the Toll Road even though it will subject the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to San Onofre State Beach to the incessant noise and visual blight of a super highway and its infrastructure. Respondents failed to evaluate and determine the impacts of the Toll Road on the rural setting, on the campground, and on the habitats of various endangered and threatened species inside the state park, including the critically endangered Pacific pocket mouse. TCA violated CEQA because its SEIR failed to discuss these impacts in a meaningful way and failed to properly analyze alternatives, including widening of the I-5 corridor.”
The portion of the land that the toll road would traverse was formerly a part of Camp Pendleton and is the last remaining undeveloped coastal valley available for recreation south of Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. In 1971, President Nixon and Ronald Reagan led an effort to dedicate the San Onofre State Beach land to public use through a long-term lease to the state park system.
Two other lawsuits also were filed today. A coalition of environmental and surfing organizations filed a separate suit against TCA citing CEQA violations. The Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) also sued to protect sacred tribal land.
The NAHC lawsuit alleges TCA violated laws that prohibit public agencies from causing damage to Native American historical and ceremonial sites that are located on public property. The complaint states that the toll road would adversely impact the indigenous Village of Panhé, recognized as one of the major villages of the Juaneño/Acjachemen people, and pass within feet of a cemetary still used by the people.
“This lawsuit is being filed to protect this sacred place from severe and irreparable damage,” said Larry Myers, Executive Secretary of NAHC.
The Court will set within 90 days a date for a later hearing to resolve the legal arguments raised by the Attorney General, environmental groups and NAHC. The Attorney General's wife, Nadia, is a member of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians of the Acjachemen Nation, a non-federally recognized tribe which has an historical connection to the affected area.