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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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A Disappointing Week for Local Governance in South Orange County

We wanted to highlight two recent local stories for discussion.  First, the 241 Tesoro Extension hit a roadblock when the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board denied its permit application.  Here’s how the Patch reported it:

After more than six grueling hours of presentations and testimony Wednesday, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board denied a permit to extend the 241 toll road 5.5 miles farther south in Orange County.  The board voted 3-2 against the project, with board members Eric Anderson and Gary Strawn dissenting.

Oceanside City Councilwoman Esther Sanchez provided the most “colorful” quote:

“We in Oceanside are always thankful for Camp Pendleton, which serves as a buffer and definite change from the horrible urban sprawl and bad planning of Orange County,” said Sanchez.

Yes, it’s a good thing Oceanside:

Street scene: Oceanside (photo credit: Google Street View)

…doesn’t look like anything like Orange County:

Street scene: San Clemente (photo credit: Google Street View)

Just kidding!  We have nothing against Oceanside.  But who does Councilwoman Sanchez think she is, slandering all of Orange County with broad brushstrokes in a public forum?  Totally unnecessary and unprofessional.  We have a traffic problem up here and we’re trying to fix it.  Councilwoman, with all due respect, just admit that you oppose the Orange County Toll Road because your community doesn’t directly benefit from it and leave the personal attacks out of it.

Meanwhile, next door in Dana Point, the California Coastal Commission effectively ruled that the Commission’s mandate to open beaches to public access trumped the City of Dana Point’s authority to enact regulations designed to avoid public nuisances.  The Patch printed a press release from the Surfrider Foundation, an organization involved in the lawsuit against Dana Point.  From the Surfrider Foundation press release:

“This opinion is even better for Surfrider Foundation than the trial court’s ruling because it sets a statewide precedent confirming the strength of the Coastal Commission and the Coastal Act to protect our beach access rights,” says Surfrider Foundation Legal Director Angela Howe.  ”Not only will access at Dana Point Strands Beach be protected through this ruling, but other municipalities and developers will be estopped from abusing nuisance abatement authority to the detriment of public access.”

The Coastal Commission has a mandate: protect the California coastline.  In and of itself, that is a noble goal.  The problem with the Coastal Commission is that there is no effective way for average citizens to force it to act reasonably, which is troubling.  Excessive governmental regulation is akin to confiscation.  Any government regulatory power, even for a good cause, must be exercised with discretion and balanced with practical considerations.

Ironically, one of the California Coastal Commissioners is…wait for it…Esther Sanchez.  OK, that’s just a coincidence, but it does explain why the Oceanside Councilwoman would speak out so harshly against the 241 Tesoro Extension.  She has a political agenda that goes beyond representing Oceanside.

We try to be fair here.  Of course the Transportation Corridor Agency ultimately would like to connect the 241 to I-5 at some point in the future, although that wasn’t the project up for a permit.  And of course a big part of Dana Point’s urgency statute was designed to prevent mobs of beach traffic from walking through the multi-million dollar Strands neighborhood, but closing those gates at 7 PM is not a wholly unreasonable compromise, is it?  My parents used to tell me that nothing good happens after dark.  In any event, we admit that reasonable minds could disagree on the correct outcome of both of these cases.  Our beef isn’t with the decisions themselves, but who is making these decisions.

We’re here to lament the fractured, chaotic regulatory environment we have in California where water bureaucrats in San Diego can kill a road project that sits entirely within Orange County, and where coastal commissioners in Sacramento can override a local municipality on issues of local health and safety.  Our concern is that both of these issues are local issues and should have been decided here — in South Orange County, by elected officials with local jurisdiction.  Why should Esther Sanchez of Oceanside have more say over Orange County governance than, for example, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Pro Tem Sam Allevato, who spoke in favor of the 241 Tesoro Extension at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting.

Sam Allevato, mayor pro tem of San Juan Capistrano and a director on the Foothills-Eastern TCA board, took offense at continued reference to the tollway as “a road to nowhere,” a description coined by the California attorney general.

“My city has been disparaged as ‘nowhere’ by the California attorney general,” Allevato said. “We have attractions from a premier equestrian center to the famous Mission of San Juan Capistrano. It’s the birthplace of Orange County. So we’re pretty far from nowhere.”

Needless to say, it was a disappointing week for local governance in South Orange County.  When San Diego water boards and Sacramento coastal commissions — answerable to no one in Orange County — are overruling local decisions and claiming to know better than our local elected officials how we should be living and governing ourselves, the system is broken.

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