Conservation Update, 2014 May | Transportation Corridor Agency, West Coyote Hills


1.  On April 8, the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) formally withdrew its 13-year-old notices to the Federal Highway Administration for its intent to begin federal-level environmental reviews for its project to extend the 241 toll road 16 miles from its present terminus at Oso Parkway southward to I-5. South of Ortega highway, the proposed route ran along Cristianitos Creek and lower San Mateo Creek. One version or another of that alignment had been part of planning for the area for at least four decades. So the TCA’s decision ends a very long series of plans, EIRs, hearings–and an equally long enviro campaign to prevent the toll road’s extension through protected land: San Onofre State Park along lower San Mateo Creek. The toll-road extension route was denied by the California Coastal Commission in 2007 and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce in 2008. The TCA’s withdrawal finally acknowledges that the proposed route is dead, and effectively discards all the environmental reviews done on the route over the decades–reviews which would take years to do over.

The TCA still wants to extend the toll road 5.5 miles from its present terminus to a planned Cow Camp Road, which would connect the toll road’s end to both Ortega Highway and Antonio Parkway.

Suspension of the 241 alignment south of Ortega Highway removes a big threat to the integrity of Cristianitos Creek, which is a subwatershed of San Mateo Creek watershed. San Mateo Creek is the last wild—undammed, unchannelized—river south of Ventura. The San Mateo watershed is almost all protected by being within the San Mateo Wilderness of the Trabuco District, Cleveland National Forest. The lowest reach is protected by being within Camp Pendleton (USMC), which leases part of it to California State Parks for San Onofre State Park. Only the 12,160-acre Cristianitos Creek subwatershed is largely privately owned, by Rancho Mission Viejo. The Ranch’s plan calls for a 500-acre development within the watershed; the rest is to be preserved as part of the eventual 20,868-acre Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo (which is mitigation for the 14,000 dwelling units to be built). If that 500-acre development were not done, the entire San Mateo watershed would remain truly wild.

2.  The West Coyote Hills, a 510-acre swath of mostly natural open space in the northwesterly corner of Fullerton, are a big step closer to being preserved after decades of steadfast campaigning by the Friends of Coyote Hills. The campaign included a referendum in which Fullerton citizens voted to reject a measure that would have allowed Chevron to go ahead with its plans. On April 15, the Fullerton City Council announced that Chevron is now willing to talk with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land-conservation group, about possibly selling some or all of the land to TPL. TPL would turn it over to a public agency–perhaps the City–on the condition that it forever be preserved as public open space. Discussion toward an acquisition agreement is planned to occur over the next few months. Stay tuned!                                                                                —Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair

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