By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Much, if not all, of the beach and park experience will be lost if the Foothill Toll Road is extended through San Onofre State Park Beach. San Mateo Creek is the cleanest river running into the Pacific in Southern California. Its sand and silt continually replenish the beach, and the cobblestones it has been discharging for eons keep up the bump in the ocean floor that gives Trestles its peculiar break. The road threatens to hurt the dynamic of free-running river and ocean.
With the toll road will also come massive uphill development. Surfrider and the Sierra Club, which are battling Foothill, point to the effects of the San Joaquin Toll Road, which cuts through the Laguna Hills, south of Irvine. Thirty years ago, Aliso Creek, which empties at Laguna Beach, had steelhead and rainbow trout. It now competes for status as one of the most polluted creeks in Southern California, due to runoff from housing tracts that sprang up along the toll-road alignment. Likewise, San Juan Creek, which empties at Dana Point, is today polluted and has been transformed into a concrete flood channel. Environmentalists believe that San Mateo Creek will meet the same fate — and as goes the creek, so goes the pristine surf at San Onofre.
There is also the fear that with a four-lane highway, more animals will lose their lives. In the 22 months from October 1998 to July 2000, 118 mammals were killed by drivers on the San Joaquin and 241 toll roads. Most disconcerting to wildlife biologists is the loss of mountain lions, whose population is dwindling precipitously — largely due to roadkill on highways cutting through their range.
The toll road will also stampede a fading way of life in Southern California. Besides the loss of those 276 campsites, and the possible closure of the fourth most popular campgrounds in the state, nearby San Clemente will be trounced under the weight of more bedroom communities, more Wal-Marts and more SUVs.
“We were really this small beach town, and then we got discovered. Now the ranch land is being developed, the hills and inland valleys are being mowed for Model 1, Model 2, Model 3 homes. We are struggling to preserve beach culture. It is a laid-back culture versus Irvine as an idea of living,” says Cousineau, who is dressed on this sunny spring morning in a Fiji tapa-cloth shirt, corduroy shorts and thongs. “Our small local community is being made over as a commuter town. The San Joaquin Toll Road opened us from the north, and now this new toll road would open us from the south.”
Saving San Onofre State Beach Park, in other words, is about saving a way of life — a dialogue between the wild and the cultured in which one depends upon the other for survival. Preserving the park is not a sentimental or nostalgic endeavor. It is hard-boiled realism. It is one part, at least, of a community fighting for its skin.
As Steve Pezman says, “I’m a refugee on the edge of extinction.”
How to get there: Follow the I-5 south three miles past San Clemente; exit at Basilone Road.
Where to stay:Camping is available at San Onofre State Bluffs (176 sites) and the San Mateo Campground (100 sites). Campgrounds have showers and RV hookups. Reservations are necessary and can be made online at www.reserveamerica.com or by calling the park at (949) 492-4872.
What to do:Surf, fish, hike, relax. San Onofre Bluffs also has a swimming beach.
For more information:Visit www.parks.ca.gov or call the park.