Culminating two decades of work, EHL and other members of the Save San Onofre Coalition signed a legal settlement agreement that protects prime natural resources from the Foothill South tollroad. 

In the late 1990s, EHL identified the southerly extension of the 241 toll road as a devastating threat to the most intact coastal watershed south of Ventura, the San Mateo Creek. This watershed is home to a remarkable number of endangered species – arroyo toad, California gnatcatcher, Pacific pocket mouse, tidewater goby, steelhead trout, least Bell’s vireo, and more – and is represented by ostensibly protected lands such as the Richard and Donna O’Neill Conservancy and San Onofre State Beach. Yet the proposed toll road would have bisected these and would probably have caused the closure of the State Park and its heavily used campgrounds.

The Save San Onofre Coalition pooled resources and mounted an unprecedented campaign – legal, policy, media, and grassroots – which led to the California Coastal Commission denying the project, a decision later upheld by the Department of Commerce. With 4,000 people opposing the toll road, this public hearing was the largest in Coastal Commission history. When the State Water Quality Control Board also heard our arguments and denied a permit for a portion of the proposed toll road (the Tesoro Extension), new leadership at the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) began to assess other options.

TCA began a public process in which the permitting realities were acknowledged. EHL and the Coalition were included in this outreach and began lengthy discussions which culminated in the signing of a settlement agreement on November 10, 2016. EHL was one of the core Save San Onofre Coalition members throughout the entire period of opposition and negotiation. We will stay engaged as TCA selects an alternative route and will help implement the conservation aspects of the agreement.

The agreement:
  • Settles five lawsuits against the TCA by the Coalition and State agencies
  • Rescinds approvals of the route to which we object
  • Requires future alignments to avoid resource areas of concern
  • Requires EHL and other Coalition members not to oppose alternative alignments in other locations
  • Reimburses the Save San Onofre Coalition for legal fees and costs
  • Creates a $28 million fund to protect and restore the San Mateo Creek Watershed
  • Allows TCA to construct a bridge to, and begin collecting tolls on, Los Patrones Parkway, which is part of a future alignment outside the area to be avoided
  • Ensures coastal access if I-5 is widened within San Onofre State Beach
Being part of the Save San Onofre Coalition has been an uplifting experience of teamwork and dedication. We salute all involved – including TCA –  in reaching this constructive resolution.