The Future of Trestles

Trestles and South Orange County’s Backcountry.

A Environmental Interview With Brittany McKee,
Sierra Club director of Friends of the Foothills. By Chris Dixon

surfers the world over, the word “Trestles” carries a hefty amount of
history and significance.
Surfers have been riding waves along this
2-plus mile stretch of San Onofre State Park from Cottons Point to Oldmans
for generations. The excellent surf found along this stretch is caused
by millions of years of sedimentary outflow of the San Mateo and Christianitos
Creeks. San Mateo Creek gathers water from hundreds of square miles of
gorgeous, undeveloped backcountry behind San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano
and Mission Viejo. Christianitos Creek gets most of its water from the
gorgeous, undeveloped backcountry along the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

The cobblestone
rocks carried downstream from these creeks have been deposited well offshore
to create a vast reef system that sucks in and magnifies swells from the
south in the summer and the west swells that make it past Catalina in
the winter. The setup creates some of the best, most consistently rideable
surf on the California coast. Since these creeks are also generally free
of pollution from development like lawn and golf course pesticide runoff,
motor oil, brake lining dust, antifreeze and other toxins found at the
outflow of essentially every other creek or river in southern California,
the waters around Trestles stay relatively clean, even when it rains.

Trestles, and indeed the entire backcountry of Orange County that supports
its creeks are seriously threatened by two monstrous projects. The first
is a plan by the Rancho Mission Viejo company to build 14,000 homes and
more commercial space than a large shopping mall in the areas that directly
flow into both San Mateo Creeks and San Juan Creek at Doheny Beach. The
other is a toll road freeway that would connect Riverside and Rancho Santa
Margarita to Trestles. The tollroad would run right along the San Mateo
creek for much of its distance — opening the backcountry to vast areas
of sprawl and development, and emptying the refuse of tens of thousands
of cars into the waterways as toxic runoff. Don’t believe this scenario?
Then use the toxicity levels at Aliso Creek as an example. Aliso carries
the runoff from tens of thousands of homes in Aliso Viejo and hundreds
of thousands of autos on the 73 toll road to its mouth at Laguna Beach.

is an escape valve of inestimable monetary and cultural value for tens
of thousands of Californians and its backcountry serves as absolutely
critical habitat for millions of animals. Much has happened to affect
the future of Trestles and indeed that of south Orange County over the
last decade. In the interest of informing and alarming those of you who
hold the place as a shrine in the midst of urbania, we did an interview
with Brittany Murphy who is the director of the Friends of the Foothills
organization. FOF is charged with defending Orange County’s backcountry
and Trestles from the fate that has befallen so much of Southern California.
If you want to know more, read on. If you don’t want to know, read on
anyway because you need to know and you need to care.

other words, if Trestles has ever given anything to you, maybe it’s time
you gave a little bit back to Trestles

interview will be presented in two parts.

Chris Dixon:
Brittany, talk a little about the mission of Friends of the Foothills
and how it came about.

McKee: It started as a task force for the Sierra Club and it’s grown into
this coalition of groups including Surfrider, the Audobon Society, National
Resources Defense Council, Trout Unlimited, and a number of church and
community groups. There are over 30 groups represented in all along with
individuals and local businesses.

CD: So you
started as a task force then decided to become this organization. Was
this because once everything was looked at in this area, it was determined
that this was really an important issue for the Sierra club?

McKee: Definitely.
Task forces for the Sierra Club are normally run at a sort of group or
smaller level. But this is what’s called an EPEC site, which means Environmental
Public Education Campaign.

The Sierra
Club national picks 20 or 30 such sites across the country that they consider
to be national priority campaigns. So they fund them at a higher level
because they think that the campaign there is significant and represents
a bigger issue. In this case, the issue is urban sprawl — that’s the
issue we’re representing here at a national level.

CD: And you
get to actually have an office.

McKee: Right.

CD: Where
is it?

McKee: My
office is in San Clemente, actually in the same building with Surfrider
at El Camino Real and Del Mar.

CD: It’s
funny because there’s actually a Tollroad office right down the street
from you in San Clemente too.

McKee: Yeah,
it’s funny, we actually do an information table on Sundays and we do it
directly across the street from the Tollroad office.

CD: So you
guys formed the Friends of the Foothills at what point?’

McKee: I
guess it was about 5 years ago, I wasn’t there at the beginning. I’ve
been on for about my 3rd year now. It was started by Paul Carlton,
one of the local San Clemente Sierra Club members who heard of the tollroad
proposal and just thought it was a horrible idea. It started with about
10 people meeting in his living room. And its just grown since then.

CD: The Sierra
Club picks 20 really significant sites or issues. What are some others
that rank up there with this for the Sierra Club? Where is this in terms
of importance.

McKee: Another
is in Vegas. They have a lot of serious sprawl issues there. There’s another
on the Gaviota coast trying to protect the coastline up there from development.
There are other ones back east. They do one on CAFOS too — that’s factory
farming in the Midwest.

CD: That’s
interesting because the Gaviota coast is obviously of a lot of concern
to surfers and so is the watershed that drains to San Mateo Creek at Trestles.

It seems
to me that a lot of people who drive the I-5 freeway everyday don’t realize
exactly how much undeveloped land is back there. How much land and open
space there still is behind from San Juan Capistrano all the way to San

landscape can be
found behind San
Clemente and San
Juan Capistrano.
There are tens of
thousands of acres
like this behind
the towns. Looks
More Like a National
Park than a Home
For Strip Malls and
Tract Houses Doesn’t

McKee: It’s
amazing. Even the Sierra Club people didn’t know what was there. I mean
until you go back there, you have no idea. That’s why we host hikes once
a month at the Mission Viejo Land Conservancy where we can really get
an idea of what’s out there and then we do another by Trestles up to the
San Mateo Campground and down to Trestles so people can see the watershed
and the wetlands area and down to the beach.

That’s kind
of the Sierra club way — take people to a place and show them what’s
it’s like and what’s out there so you can get them more involved in helping
to try and save it.

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