Toll Road Extension Plans Rankle Orange County Residents

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – The city of San Clemente, California, and a gated community have sued to block the extension of a state toll road into southern Orange County, claiming the Transportation Corridor Agency is advancing the project without any environmental review.

The gated community The Reserve, or Reserve Maintenance Corp., sued the Transportation Corridor Agency in a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court this past Friday but made available to the press and public on Monday. It claims that from April 2014 to November 2016, the agency reached a secret deal with several interested parties opposed to an extension designated 16 years ago.

“In short, the TCA unilaterally rescinded over 30 years of planning and public process in favor of a ‘back room’ deal; a deal which was both outside the scope of the TCA’s authority and in blatant violation of California’s open-meeting laws,” the gated community’s lawsuit states.

San Clemente also filed a lawsuit asking a court to order a more thorough environmental review of the extension, called State Route 241 Foothill-South.

TCA says the extension is necessary to ease congestion on Interstate 5 through southern Orange County. The agency estimates that the county population will increase by 400,000 people by 2035, and that traffic will increase by 66 percent over the next 23 years. That will create quality-of-life issues for residents, the agency says.

In November 2016, the TCA announced that it had reached a settlement with several environmental groups opposed to the 1991 alignment. The groups argued that the extension would impact San Onofre State Beach, the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy, and San Mateo Creek watershed.

The 12 groups opposed to the 1991 alignment included the California Coastal Protection Network, California State Parks Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, and Sierra Club.

Even though the TCA claimed a victory that would protect parks, beaches and other sensitive areas, the gated community says South Orange County residents “began to comprehend the insidious consequence of the TCA’s secret agreement.”

Even though the TCA’s settlement will protect several areas, the agency will now have to extend the project through “preserved open space, mitigation lands, and trails” in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and the Rancho Mission Viejo, the gated community says.

“Worse still, all remaining alignment options under consideration would put a toll road within close proximity of community parks, schools, trails, and homes with devastating, unmitigable environmental, socioeconomic, and human impacts,” the community states.

According to The Reserve’s lawsuit, the areas were developed based on the expectation that the toll road extension would never disrupt those communities.

The Reserve says the TCA approved the settlement and protective agreement without public participation, in violation of California’s Brown Act, and without any environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Also filing under CEQA, San Clemente seeks an injunction and an order vacating the protective agreement.

The Reserve Maintenance Corp. is represented by Daniel Bane of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

San Clemente is represented by Scott Smith of Best Best & Krieger.

Courthouse News has contacted the TCA for comment.

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