The decisive rejection last Wednesday by the California Coastal Commission (8-2) of the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) proposed 241 toll road that would have obliterated much of San Onofre State Beach Park was one of the most significant decisions in the history of the agency. The vast and overwhelming coalition that assembled to defend one of California’s most popular state parks and one of the world’s best and most famous surf spots was historic. The more than 3,000 people who assembled to defend San Onofre were the largest crowd in the history of Coastal Commission hearings.

Since the environmental movement is not accustomed to such overwhelming victories, we do not always analyze our successes or failures. But due to the scope of the landmark movement to preserve San Onofre and the diversity of the coalition that came together in the “Woodstock of the surf movement” last Wednesday, it is critical to understand why the Save Trestles-San Onofre Coalition won.

Here is a very brief and preliminary synopsis of the Super Bowl size victory:

Coalitions Matter: While the Surfrider Foundation did a brilliant job of mobilizing the masses and creating the coolest marketing campaign in the history of the environmental movement (kudos to Surfrider CEO Jim Moriarty and Matt McClain, Surfrider’s savant marketing and communications director), the Save Trestles/San Onofre coalition included the best and brightest of California’s environmental community. The Sierra Club, through the Friends of the Foothills alliance used the best tactics of grassroots organizing and direct mail to get the public to take action and organize key advocacy trips to Sacramento for grassroots campaigners (including myself).

NRDC, Endangered Habitats League, California Coastal Protection Network, California State Parks Foundation, The City Project, and a host of other organizations and consultants also provided the political and legal savvy to help derail the toll road. Additionally elected officials such as Susan Davis, Christine Kehoe, Lori Saldana, Pam Slater Price and a variety of California elected city officials provided their strong endorsement and created legislation to ensure the protection of San Onofre. Overall this was as sophisticated environmental coalition and campaign I have seen.

Diversity Counts: One of the most cogent arguments made to the Coastal Commissioners was that obliterating San Mateo Campground and San Onofre Beach State Park was an issue of environmental health and justice. The recreational users of San Onofre State Beach Park are among the most culturally diverse of any coastal state park in California. On any given day in San Onofre State Beach Park you can talk quad design with Chinese-America surfers from Irvine, admire the grace of multi-cultural cross-county high school running teams from San Clemente traversing the park’s trails, marvel at the prowess of some of the world’s best Hispanic surfers, and listen to conversations “In about four different languages” according to Pat Zabrocki of Surfshot Magazine in an interview with Treehugger Radio.

At the commission hearing, Los Angeles civil rights and environmental attorney, Robert Garcia and Acjachemen activist Rebecca Robles and other Native American leaders, provided a moving and passionate defense of San Onofre as a critical site for providing access to open space and recreational resources for underserved communities. The San Mateo Creek watershed is actually Panhe, a key Acjachemen religious, historical, and ceremonial site. The involvement of Latino, African American, Asian-Pacific Islander and Native American organizations in the Save San Onofre coalition only underscores the need for the environmental movement to dramatically expand its attempt to reach out to underserved communities and people of color. This is not just an issue of tactics and strategy but a moral and ethical imperative that will help us reclaim the heart and soul of the environmental movement.

The Surf Industry Flexed its Muscles: The multi-billion dollar surf industry is relatively young and just starting to flex its political muscles (please note that WiLDCOAST the organization I run receives financial support from a number of surf companies and the SIMA trade association). The surf industry was an active participant in this campaign and was out in full-force for the Commission hearing. This is a very positive and welcome sign for the future of the coastal protection movement in California and worldwide.

The TCA’s Arrogance: Alex Brant-Zawadzki, a feisty writer The OC Weekly said it best in a recent blog (“Why the Toll Road is Dead”).

..the root cause of the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ failure to gain Coastal Commission approval for their Final Solution to San Onofre State Beach: ARROGANCE.

The TCA overreached by attempting to ram a private toll road through one of California’s most beloved state parks and global ground zero of the surfing world. The secretive agency must have believed that surfers and the people of California would sit idly by while it paved over paradise. The TCA blew it.

This battle is far from over. The TCA will take it case to the U.S. Department of Commerce, but the decisive nature of the Coastal Commission decision proves that in California, it is a bad idea to mess with our state parks.


Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.