Surfers and environmentalists threw a roadblock in front of a proposed toll road near one of the world's best surf breaks — but backers say they will fight on.
The California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 late Wednesday against the project, which critics said would wipe out about a dozen endangered or threatened coastal species, decimate an ancient Indian burial ground and block sediment that creates world-class waves at San Onofre State Beach.
The panel's vote means that commissioners found the project doesn't meet with the legal requirements of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act and California's Coastal Act.
But toll road officials said they will file an appeal next week with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to keep the $875 million project alive.
"It's not over yet," said Lance MacLean, chairman of the Foothill Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency. "We still believe firmly that our project as proposed provides the best traffic relief in the most environmentally sound way."
An estimated 3,000 people — surfers, environmentalists, commuters, union activists and tribal members — showed up for the marathon commission hearing, some with surfboards in tow.
Opponents hoisted signs that read "Protect Our Parks" and "Highway from Hell." They erupted in raucous cheering and dancing as the vote was tallied.
"When I look at this project, I can't believe it," Commissioner Sara Wan said before the vote. "This looks like something from the 1950s, not from now, when we know how endangered our planet is.
"I guess if you throw enough spaghetti at the wall, you hope that some of it will stick or at least prevent the majority of folks from understanding the issues."
Supporters said the turnpike was necessary to relieve crushing rush hour traffic on Interstate 5, where 125,000 cars pass each day between Orange County and San Diego. An alternative — widening the I-5 — would destroy more than 1,200 homes and businesses.
They also argued the road would increase access to the pristine beach for low-income and minority families and provide an alternate escape route in case of a wildfire.
"The area is in gridlock most of the time," said Tom Margro, the toll road agency's chief executive officer. "The fact that Southern California needs an alternative to the I-5 in this area has been known for decades."
But speakers at the hearing questioned the wisdom of intruding on the state's fifth-most popular state park and its famous surf break for the benefit of commuters. The break, Trestles, attracted 400,000 surfers last year and contributes up to $13 million to the local economy, the commission staff said.