Trestles Saved From Toll Road—Finally

Settlement denies approval of six-lane highway through San Onofre State Park

Photo: Bryce Lowe-White

No turnpikes through these parts. Photo: Lowe-White

It’s been a long time coming, but Southern California surfers can celebrate after news broke Thursday that a settlement has been reached to protect San Onofre State Park – and all of Trestles – from a proposed toll road, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Five lawsuits, raised in 2006 and 2011 by the State of California and a host of other environmental coalitions like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), were finally settled on Thursday at a vote by Orange County Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) board members that effectively shot down plans to increase the Foothill South toll road to Interstate-5 at the expense of the Lowers’ beachfront. Environmental groups also called foul on Irvine’s TCA approval of a proposed 51/2-mile extension route that could eventually wind its way back through San Onofre, a route that has been revisited by the TCA since 2014; the settlement forces Irvine’s TCA to retract the approval.

"This agreement will guarantee that millions of Californians will be able to enjoy this magnificent park, its beaches, and natural areas for years to come," said Elizabeth Goldstein, President of the California Parks Foundation and representative for the Save San Onofre Coalition, to The Times.

Even more good news for surfers? Thanks to the settlement, a new $28-million conservation fund will help protect the San Mateo Creek watershed, the estuary that feeds right into Trestles.

The announcement is a solid victory after nine years of indecision over whether the beach-fronting Lowers would be compromised with a turnpike and six lanes of highway concrete. Even after the original route was rejected by the California Coastal Commission in 2008, and after heated rallying from protesters, Foothill South tollway officials could presumably pick up the project again whenever they wanted, at least before the landmark agreement on Thursday between Orange County TCAs, the NRDC, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

At stake was prized, open land that literally bordered on the sacred, and not just for surfers – the proposed route crossed into hallowed Native American sites. The new agreement allows TCA to pursue other routes to relieve I-5 traffic between North County and South Orange County. But San Onofre, long considered at risk of development, is officially off-limits. By all accounts, this agreement seems like the real deal. No toll road – ever.

"Our coalition has sensed a change in tone and direction at the TCA in the past several years. This fresh look has allowed us to have constructive discussions about the project," Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the NRDC, told The Times. "That has led us to where we are today.”