Monday, Aug. 3, 2008 | One of the most alarming features of the Bush administration has been the lack of respect for democracy and principles of fairness, honesty and justice.
Pick a topic — human rights, global climate change, electronic surveillance, and energy policy among others — and the salient features are always the lack of transparency, the influence of special interests with large economic interests in the outcome (usually in the form of no-bid contracts), the lack of public review and public participation.
The increasing amount of money in the political process also has a significant impact on the ability of citizens to get a fair hearing on any issue, if one occurs at all. In the case of the proposed Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) toll road that would bisect San Onofre State Beach Park (home of famed surf break Trestles), democracy seems to off the agenda. After the Feb. 8 decisionby the California Coastal Commission to deny the TCA a toll road permit, the agency appealed to the U.S.-Department of Commerce.
The federal government is the final “decider” due to the fact that land for San Onofre State Beach Park is leased from the federal government. After receiving more than 30,000 emails and letters asking for a public hearing on the issue to be held in southern California, the federal agency headed by Carlos Gutierrez, a former Kellogg Company CEO, agreed to hold a hearing at the Bren Center on the campus of the University of California-Irvine on July 25. The center has a capacity of 4,758, more than enough to seat what activists expected to be a crowd of between 3,500 – 4,000.
However, on July 11, the Department of Commerce, cancelled the hearing. Apparently, officials at UC Irvine believed that more than 10,000 people would attend the toll road hearing and would have exceeded the center’s “capacity and security resources.”
Rather than quickly identify a new location for the hearing, Commerce Department General Counsel Jane Luxton argued in a letter to California state officials that, “It would be difficult to accommodate a much larger crowd because the cost of a larger facility and increased security would exceed our current budget.” Unfortunately for American citizens, the out of control costs of the Iraq war, that was originally intended to bring about a “democratic renaissance” in the Middle East, have made it difficult for the Bush administration to practice domestic democracy.
The Save San Onofre Coalition and the State of California urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to schedule a new public hearing. Jammee Jordan Patterson of the California Attorney General’s office requested that the federal agency hold a meeting at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Sept. 8 or 9.
Surfers and environmentalists have flooded Gutierrez with emails and phone calls urging the Commerce Department to hold a new hearing. And on Aug. 5, the State of California will hold a joint oversight hearing with the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in Sacramento on the status of state parks in California. One of the central topics will be the threat to San Onofre State Beach Park from the proposed toll road project.
Meanwhile, the main congressional supporter of the toll road, Rep. Gary Miller, a Republican and former land developer was found to have bought $20,000 in TCA bonds back in 2000. Miller subsequently helped the TCA obtain $8 million in federal funding for the toll road project.
Congressional rules prohibit federal legislators from appropriating federal funds to promote projects that they have invested in. Miller told the press that the conflict was most likely the fault of his wife who might have purchased the bonds without his knowledge.
He did later state that, “If TCA ever completes Foothill-South, I will sell my bonds before completion of the project to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
It remains to be seen what the fate of San Onofre State Beach Park and Trestles will be. Hopefully environmentalists might be able to wait it out for new President who actually protects our natural heritage and defends democracy abroad and at home. Otherwise we might be stuck with a toll road that destroys one of the most popular state parks in California and degrades one of the best surfing sites on the planet.