Thursday, December 20, 2012

Toll Road Agency Under Investigation by the State Treasure

Before we jump into the news about the State Treasure investigating the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA), we want to bring up a few points about how this agency is a burden to you, the taxpayer.

A longstanding promise of the TCA is that the roads they build will one day be paid off and “belong to the people of California”. 

However, the timeline of that promise keeps changing. 

Just recently, the TCA Foothill Eastern Board of Directors voted to refinance their debt and bonds—this “restructuring” would effectively push out their debt an additional 13 years.

It’s important to note that while we are waiting to obtain these “free roads” we will continue paying for the upkeep TCA’s roads.  Caltrans (who is funded by our tax dollars) maintains all TCA roadways.  Remember in 2001 when storm drain filters on 73 Toll Road failed and had to be replaced?  Oh yeah, we taxpayers spent $13.5 million to fix their problem.  

And lets not forget how the TCA constantly claims that they do not rely on public funds for their roads, yet over the past several years we have seen them try to obtain federal grants and subsidies (via the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and other federal programs). 

Surfrider is highlighting the financial burdens and pitfalls of this agency because quite frankly the news about the State Treasure investing TCA is huge.  As the Orange County Register reports, it’s very a rare investigation, noting:  “This is the first time in recent memory that the commission has examined the finances of a local agency, said Dressler, the treasurer's spokesman.”  The LA Times notes that Wall Street ratings agencies have labeled the San Joaquin Hills toll road's “junk bonds” and the Foothill-Eastern corridor’s bonds are low investment grade. 

Surfrider regularly attends TCA Board meetings.  During the meetings they paint a rosy picture of their finances—glossing over low ridership, the increase in tolls, and now they are glossing over the investigation of the State Treasure. 

While it’s hard to say exactly what the investigation will find, things are not looking good for the TCA. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TCA Shenanigans

Over the last few months, Surfrider has been writing about TCA’s plan to build the road in segments.  We routinely attend their Board meetings to keep an eye on them.  Here’s our first blog describing TCA’s plan. In a nutshell, TCA is proposing to complete the road in 4 segments (the same road that was rejected by Coastal Commission and Bush administration).  However, they admit they don’t know where the last segment of the road will be located.   During their public Board meetings, TCA laments that the last section will be the most challenging since the road will essentially be located somewhere near San Onofre State Beach and Camp Pendleton (and as you know, both locations have strong opposition). 

Despite not having a plan for the last segment, they vow to complete the road. Sounds like horrible planning and engineering to Surfrider!

Now, as if the segmentation plan wasn’t bad enough, TCA is also working with high-paid lobbyists to circumvent the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental measures.  Apparently they are trying to get language into the current transportation bill that would streamline the environmental review process of NEPA-- essentially allowing the first segment of the road to move forward more quickly.  Our Save San Onofre Coalition has been steadfastly watching the transportation bill.  We recently sent a letter to Senator Boxer (who oversees the conference committee drafting the transportation bill) and we urged her to continue working toward a strong bill that does not include drastic environmental streamlining language.  For what it’s worth, the reality of NEPA exemptions coming to fruition is low and we are confident Senator Boxer and other Committee members will oppose gutting environmental laws that benefit our county as a whole. 

TCA also has the audacity to pursue environmental streamlining for an Army Corps of Engineers permit.  Congressman Filner became aware of the TCA's attempts to shorten the Army Corps permit and he wrote a letter urging them to not allow an abbreviated process—stressing the importance of both environmental and public review of the project.    You can view his letter here

While much of this blog details the convoluted regulatory processes, the “take home message” is that the TCA has numerous hurdles to clear in order to build the first section of the road.  Our Save San Onofre coalition (the exact same people who defeated the road in 2008) meets regularly to strategize. We have many tricks up our sleeve to ensure the TCA segmentation approach is never visualized.   In October, the TCA will officially vote at their Board of Directors meeting to go forward with the segment plan based on their funding, engineer plans and possibility of obtaining environmental permits.  Surfrider and our Coalition partners will keep you abreast of their plans.  Of course, we’ll let you apprised of our efforts and when we will need your help to (once again) stop the TCA madness.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wave Energy Project at San Onofre is Dead (for now?)

Last year a local company came forward with a plan to put a wave energy facility in the ocean just offshore of San Onofre and Trestles. The proposal was for several thousand Ocean Wave Electricity Generation (OWEG) units to capture the energy carried by the waves that hit this spectacular stretch of coast. There were myriad questions related to impacts on the surf, boaters, fishermen, wildlife etc. that needed to be answered as part of the permitting process. This process would likely take many millions of dollars to get through.

Well, just this week the agency in charge of the permit, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stopped the proposal from going forward, stating that the company simply does not have the money or ability to be able to do all of those studies. Surfrider Foundation was a formal participant and stakeholder in the permit process and agrees with that decision.

Chad Nelsen, Surfrider's Environmental Director, states: “The Surfrider Foundation approaches all renewable energy projects with an open mind because we feel that they have the potential to provide a sustainable source of clean energy. However, we also want to make sure that all projects are conducted in a way that takes any and all potential impacts to the coastal environment or recreation into account.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Views of Trestles

JD over at the Upper Trestles blog posts daily reports and pictures of the surf at Uppers. I've always loved that he also takes pictures of the San Mateo Creek and its lagoon while he's down there. Lucky for us he compiled those pics into a couple great slideshows displaying the daily nuance of the waves and creek through 2011. (Scroll down to see the videos after clicking through)