This page contains information about a lawsuit settlement reached between the Save San Onofre Coalition and the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in November 2016. The Save San Onofre Coalition was founded to protect San Onofre State Beach from a proposed toll road. The Save San Onofre Coalition is comprised of 12 California and national environmental organizations, including: Audubon California, California Coastal Protection Network, California State Parks Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Habitats League, Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., Natural Resources Defense Council, Orange County Coastkeeper, Sea and Sage Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and WiLDCOAST/COASTALVAjE
The lawsuit settlement permanently protects San Onofre State Beach by establishing avoidance areas where the TCA is not allowed to build a road. To read more about this historic settlement that ends one of California’s most hard fought environmental battles, review this blog. Visit this page to read past blogs that were posted over the course of a decade summarizing milestones of this flagship campaign.
Toll Road Settlement Agreement
Frequently Asked Questions
What did the Save San Onofre Coalition accomplish?
For 15 years, the Save San Onofre Coalition fought to protect San Onofre State Beach and the surrounding watershed. Through the November 2016 lawsuit settlement, we were able to permanently protect this watershed and these irreplaceable resources by establishing an “Avoidance Area” which clearly defines where a toll road cannot be constructed. Our Coalition successfully negotiated the Avoidance Area not only to protect the Park and watershed, but also for the benefit of the millions of people who use the Park each year and for the thousands of people who fought to protect the park through the years.
What is the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) doing now?
The TCA is still trying to build a toll road and, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), is in the process of studying a number of toll road alternatives. These alternatives must go through an open, public and transparent CEQA review process. Members of the public can participate in this process and address any concerns raised by these alternatives. The City of San Clemente is a founding member of the TCA and a voting member of TCA’s board of directors. The City of San Clemente has a direct role in this decision-making process.
Why isn’t the Surfrider Foundation opposing the TCA’s current efforts?
We can't. As a result of the Settlement Agreement that protected the park and Trestles, the Surfrider Foundation and individual Coalition members cannot take a position on any of the TCA's proposed routines, provided that none of them go through San Onofre State Beach and the San Mateo Creek watershed. The Settlement Agreement does not dictate where a toll road can be built or where it can go. Instead, it states where a road cannot go.
What is the Surfrider Foundation’s current position on a route through San Clemente?
The Settlement Agreement established by the Surfrider Foundation and Save San Onofre Coalition protected Trestles surf break and San Onofre State Beach from the 241 Foothill South toll road. This agreement protected a natural park that is enjoyed by millions and contributes over $8 million annually to the City of San Clemente. However, now we are concerned Trestles and San Onofre State Beach are again threatened. Congressman Darrel Issa is considering taking action to try to reverse this permanent protection. To compound the situation, two lawsuits were recently filed by the City of San Clemente and The Reserve Management Corporation to attempt to undo our historic settlement and reverse the hard fought, permanent protection of Trestles and the state park. While the TCA is reviewing 18 alternatives which includes a route in San Clemente, no road has been officially approved.
Why isn’t the Save San Onofre Coalition getting involved in this issue?
The mission of the Save San Onofre Coalition was to protect San Onofre State Beach for the more than 2.5 million people that come from all around the world to use it. Not to fight all toll roads. We accomplished this mission with the historic settlement agreement.
There are rumors that Surfrider is getting $28 million from the lawsuit settlement.
False - Surfrider does not receive $28 million. As part of the Settlement Agreement, the TCA will set aside $28 million as a habitat conservation fund if a toll road is constructed. The TCA administers this fund and the money can only be used to acquire and restore conservation lands, primarily in the San Mateo Creek and adjacent watershed.
Under the Settlement Agreement, the Coalition was only reimbursed for some of our attorney’s fees and costs, which was split among 12 organizations. Fighting the road for 15 years consumed millions of dollars of the Coalition's time and money, including staff and attorney time. Under the reimbursement, Surfrider received less than $1 million in reimbursement which did not cover the full costs that we spent over the past 15 years. Despite not recovering the full costs, we are proud to have played a role in the historic Settlement Agreement to protect the coast for the future.
There are rumors that Surfrider and the Save San Onofre Coalition will not "receive their money" if the TCA doesn't connect the 241 to Interstate 5.
False. Surfrider and the Save San Onofre Coalition do not get any money from the conservation fund. If the TCA does not build the road then the unspent part of the conservation fund goes away. It was important to the Save San Onofre Coalition that a conservation fund would ensure protection of the San Mateo Creek watershed and the Park that we fought to protect for the past 15 years. None of the funds go to Surfrider or the Coalition environmental groups.
If the TCA were to abandon the 241 extension project, the unspent part of the conservation fund goes away. It is important for the Save San Onofre Coalition to ensure the creation of a conservation fund if the TCA constructs the 241 extension. We wanted to ensure protection for the San Mateo watershed because that watershed and the Park are what we fought to protect for the past 15 years. If the TCA were to decide to not build the 241 extension project, then the mitigation funds would not be needed or necessary.
What about the so-called “La Pata/Cristianitos” route?
TCA cannot build or fund the La Pata/Cristianitos route because that route would run through the Avoidance Area including San Onofre State Beach and violate the Settlement Agreement. The Coalition will continue to oppose any and all proposed routes through San Onofre State Beach, including the La Pata/Cristianitos route.
Why did the City of San Clemente and The Reserve Management Corporation file a lawsuit against the TCA?
On July 28, 2017, the City of San Clemente and The Reserve Management Corporation (a Homeowners Association) filed separate lawsuits against the TCA which both support a toll road route that could devastate San Onofre State Beach and reverse portions of the Settlement Agreement. As part of the lawsuits, all 12 California and national environmental organizations that comprise the Save San Onofre Coalition were named as "real parties in interest," meaning that Surfrider and the eleven other environmental groups are parties to the litigation and will participate to defend the Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, the City Council’s lawsuit states:
"…any alignment approved concerning the southern portion of the Foothill Transportation Corridor segment of SR-241 must connect to Route 5 south of San Clemente near Basilone Road in San Diego County.”
San Onofre State Beach lies directly south of the City of San Clemente near Basilone Road. This statement from the City’s own lawsuit makes it clear that the City Council wants to dig up already rejected plans to build a road through San Onofre State Beach because there is no other way to connect SR-241 to I-5 south of San Clemente without bifurcating the sensitive watershed and state park.
There is a statement by the City of San Clemente that the Protective Agreement in the Save San Onofre Coalition’s lawsuit settlement forces Caltrans to build a toll road and prevents them from exploring other traffic relief options.
This statement is inaccurate and patently untrue. The Protective Agreement does not bind the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to building a toll road. Moreover, the Agreement does not limit the ability of Caltrans to consider, approve, or disapprove traffic relief options. The sole obligation of Caltrans in the Agreement is to not allow a road in the Avoidance Area (i.e. the park and sensitive watershed areas outlined in the Agreement). The exact language in the Agreement is: “Caltrans agrees it will not approve, permit, take possession of or otherwise authorize the construction of a major thoroughfare in the Avoidance Area.”
Why did Surfrider fight to protect San Mateo Creek watershed?
The Surfrider Foundation's priorities have always been focused on protecting coastal resources and improving coastal and ocean access and recreation. The San Mateo Creek watershed is one of the least developed in South Orange County and is responsible for creating the world-class surf spot known as Trestles, the only surf location in North America included in the annual World Championship Tour surf event. Not only would the proposed alignment impact the local coastal resources, but just as importantly, it would have set a precedent for the conversion of public state park lands to private development. The historic settlement agreement in 2016 protected a natural park that is enjoyed by millions and contributes over $8 million annually to the City of San Clemente. The settlement brought an end to one of the most hard fought environmental battles in California history, protecting the coastline for this and future generations.
Read the press statement released by the Save San Onofre coalition responding to the lawsuits.