TRESTLES TOLL ROAD SAGA: Thousands Attend Federal Inquiry In Del Mar

We've been here before, sort of. In February, roughly 3,500 toll road opponents and supporters showed up at the Del Mar Fairgrounds to voice their opinions in front of the California Coastal Commission. Back then, the commission denied the Transportation Corridor Agency permission—by an 8-2 vote—to extend Route 241 sixteen miles, part of which would run through San Onofre State Beach.

View pictures from the hearing here.

So, why another hearing today? Another crowd at the Del Mar Fairgrounds—this time estimated at about 2,500 at its peak—waving banners, jeering, and whistling in protest and support?

Well, now the Feds are involved.

After the TCA was denied permission to build the 241 extension, the agency filed an appeal. And since a portion of the road would run across federal land, the U.S. Department Of Commerce was brought in to hold another hearing…and make another call on whether the TCA can build their road.

Hundreds of public speakers, "experts," and pundits signed up to testify today in front of the federal panel, however, due to time constraints only about 150 were actually given the opportunity to speak. Elected officials and speakers representing local government, business, and environmental organizations were given priority at the pulpit. The result: very few private citizens were heard.

The hearing's structure also allowed an even representation of argument for and against the road, despite the fact that the majority of those in attendance today were in opposition to the proposed extension. (One public speaker estimated the ratio in the crowd at about 3 to 1.)

The Department Of Commerce has the ability to overrule the February decision made by the California Coastal Commission. Regardless of the demonstration at today's public hearing, however, they are not required to make a final call until January 7, 2009. The funny part (or frustrating, depending on how you look at it and where you stand) is that no matter how the Department of Commerce rules—whether they decide to allow the TCA to build or not—it's likely the whole thing will end up in either federal or state court and tied in legal litigation. "We're nearing the end of the line," said CJ Olivares, chairman of the board of the Surfrider Foundation and GM of Fuel TV. "There just aren't that many more places this thing can go." Translation: today's Part II was a cliff hanger. So get ready for Part III, which finally conclude in court.