Historic Win for San Onofre State Beach

  • Posted on 29 October 2020
  • By Mallory Martin, Communications Volunteer
In a long-sought win for a hallowed California landmark, Governor Newsom has officially signed Bill AB1426 into law last month – permanently protecting San Onofre State Beach and neighboring surf gem Trestles Beach from road infrastructure projects. The bill was written and introduced by State Assembly Member Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-76th) in September, but was ultimately the culmination of a nearly two decades long battle fought by countless individuals and organizations like the Save San Onofre Coalition (SSOC.) 
“This new law ensures that the hard work of everyone who fought to save this park cannot be undone,” Boerner Horvath said in a press release. “This is a huge victory for the cause of conservation in Southern California and for the future generations of surfers, bikers, hikers, and fishermen who will be able to enjoy this special park, just as we have.”
San Onofre State Beach was established by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1971, and has long served as one of Southern California’s most treasured surfing destinations. The World Surfing League regularly held its World Tour and NSSA Nationals there until 2017. Beyond its sporty reputation, it’s also home to the only undeveloped watershed in Southern California, San Mateo Creek. It provides a spawning ground to the endangered Southern Steelhead, previously thought to be extinct.  San Onofre/Trestles receives over 2.5 million visitors annually, generating 6 million dollars in state revenue. Unfortunately, where crowds throng, there must be roads to get them there. 
The endangered Southern Steelhead Trout

A rare sighting of the endangered Southern Steelhead Trout in San Mateo Creek; Tim Hovey all rights reserved

As such - environmentalists, anthropologists, and surf enthusiasts alike were understandably disturbed when plans for a six-lane toll road off Interstate 5 were proposed by the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) in 2005, cutting directly through the state park. The SSOC was quickly banded together in response, including The Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and 9 other environmental organizations. In 2008, this impressive coalition organized the largest public turnout in the history of the Coastal Commission, with over 3500 people attending the hearing, and resulting in its rejection, 11-2. Developers appealed the decision, but were again halted by thousands of organizers attending the Department of Commerce hearings. This streak continued in 2013, 2014 and 2015 with both regional and state water quality control boards rejecting attempts to start construction on the road. These many successes seemed to culminate in the landmark 2016 lawsuit banning toll road development within the park.
CA 241 toll entrance San Capistrano dispatch

CA 241 Northbound toll entrance; Sam Capistrano Dispatch all rights reserved 

With Newsom’s approval, the SSOC and its subsidiaries have claimed a final, definitive victory.
“AB 1426 shores up protections we have fought so hard for, codifies the judicial decree that currently protects San Onofre State Beach, the Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy, and the San Mateo Watershed, and validates nearly 20 years of grassroots advocacy,” the Surfrider Foundation said in their press release. “This legislation, and previous lawsuit settlements, is the culmination of years of hard work to Save Trestles and brings an end to one of the hardest fought, longest-lasting environmental battles in California’s history. This victory would have not been possible without the thousands of passionate and motivated advocates who stood our ground to forever save Trestles.”
"The Sierra Sage Group of South Orange County got involved with the San Onofre Beach fight against the Toll Road proposal," said Mike Sappignfield, Chair, Sierra Sage Group of Orange County ."We formed a group known as “The Friends of the Foothills” to alert our members of the major negative impact to the park, the San Mateo Creek watershed, and its mouth, which was one of the major surfing location in California, known as Trestles Beach.  Southern California Steelhead Trout use San Mateo Creek as a path up into the San Mateo Wilderness to spawn." 
"Key members involved were Paul Carlton, Bill Holmes, and many others.  The efforts began around 2000, with the key decision of the Coastal Commission decision to decline the permit requested by the Toll Road Authority in 2008, and continuing with many other litigations and efforts to built the Toll Road."
The protection of Trestles and San Onofre is one of the more exciting environmental victories to come out of a year of troubled times. This win proves to us the power of the people when we raise our voices to fight for the things that are important to us. This is a rallying cry much needed in a complicated election year - fraught with questions over voter suppression or the vitality of general participation in the political system. It’s also a reminder of the influence of local elections and state politicians, when flashier presidential candidates can easily take the spotlight. Ultimately though, the most thrilling facet of all is the simplest: San Onofre is a vital and unique piece of the Southern California landscape, and it is beyond exciting to know that the park and all its treasures will be around for ourselves and our children to enjoy for many years to come.

[Header photo: A classic perch for a classic wave. Tommy Witt, on point at Old Man's; Grant Ellis all rights reserved]

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