Surf spot’s bid for historic designation sets off ‘political fireworks’

Surf spot’s bid for historic designation sets off ‘political fireworks’
A surfer catches a wave at Lower Trestles. Recently, the California Historical Resources Commission recommended a bid to make Trestles a federal landmark. Despite the ruling, critics say they’ll continue to battle the designation, which they say could interfere with military exercises. Photo courtesy of Craig Coppla

SAN CLEMENTE — The California Historical Resources Commission voted unanimously Feb. 8 to nominate Trestles as a federal historic site during a public hearing attended by both supporters and detractors. 

And the debate over the designation didn’t end with the hearing.

Surfrider, the group that submitted the application for the designation, believes Trestles’ contributions to surf culture are incalculable, and thus the area deserves to be a federal landmark. But critics, including state Senator Mark Wyland from Solana Beach, continue to maintain Surfrider’s bid would kill a toll road, should another one be proposed in the area.

“There’s a concern projects would be rejected out of hand,” said Mark Reeder, Wyland’s chief of staff. He added that another toll road in the area could be necessary in the future with traffic growing worse.

In response, the California Historical Resources Commission said that naming Trestles a federal landmark wouldn’t preclude a toll road or other kinds of development, but projects would have to go through an additional “consultation process” to try and mitigate environmental impacts.

The eight-member commission, which is appointed by the governor, is tasked with, among other things, recommending places, buildings and sites to the National Registry of Historic places. If the 2.5-mile stretch of beach at the northern tip of San Diego is accepted to the national registry, it would mark the first time a surf spot has been named a federal landmark.

The military has also opposed the designation on the grounds that it could interfere with troop readiness. According to a press release issued by the public affairs office of Camp Pendleton after the state commission’s ruling, the Marine Corps has used the waters and beach areas within the boundaries of Trestles since 1942.

The press release reads, in part, that the primary mission of the base is to provide operating forces with the training opportunities necessary to ensure combat readiness.

“The requested designation as a national historic district poses unacceptable risks to this essential military training.”

In a letter dated Feb. 4, Gen. Vincent Coglianese, base commander of Camp Pendleton, stated that part of Trestles is an “amphibious vehicle and assault training area” for Marines.

“This mission cannot be compromised or subordinated to another land use,” Coglianese said.

But proponents of the designation say it wouldn’t prevent any military exercises. They point to language from the National Registry of Historic Places that says a historical designation does not “require any federal agency to ask permission of any state government or independent private entity to use land it owns.” Additionally, “the national park service may recommend to owners various preservation actions, but owners are not obligated to carry out these actions.”

Mark Rauscher, the coastal preservation manager with Surfrider, said the designation bid has “unfortunately become political fireworks.”

Surfrider organized a successful campaign to stop a toll road extension near Trestles about five years ago. From that effort, Rauscher said awareness of Trestles’ historical importance grew. As such, Rauscher said Surfrider isn’t advancing the bid to block another toll road proposal, should there be one.

“The toll road has been soundly defeated — that’s behind us,” Rauscher said. “Our intention is to recognize the place has historic value.

“We’ll continue to support the bid all the way; we’re not alone,” Rauscher added.

Seven beaches make up Trestles, including surf spots known as Lowers, Old Man’s and Dog Patch.

The application for the historic bid notes that Trestles served as the main gathering place for surfers across California in the 1930s. In turn, the spot was influential to surf culture. The application also states that Trestles is still popular with surfers, who are drawn to the area in part because it “remains free of commercialization,” and also due to the wave quality of the breaks in the area.

State Historian Amy Crain said the state received nearly 1,300 letters in support of the designation, and more than 110 letters against it. The historic commission’s decision was “totally independent and nonpolitical,” she said.

Crain confirmed that the designation wouldn’t “bar any development,” only that projects would have to make an effort “in good faith” to mitigate adverse effects.

The National Registry of Historic Places should make the final decision within the next three to five months, she said.

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