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San Onofre State Beach
The bill bans any transportation agency or government entity from authorizing, funding, or constructing any new infrastructure projects on the land protected by San Onofre State Beach and Richard H. and Donna O’Neill Conservancy. Photo courtesy of CA State Parks
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Boerner Horvath’s bill protecting San Onofre State Beach awaits governor’s signature

REGION — San Onofre State Beach is one step closer to being fully protected from any new infrastructure development.

Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath’s (D-Encinitas) bill, AB 1426, passed a bipartisan floor vote, 61-10, on Aug. 26 and now sits on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. The bill was supported by a variety of conservation, labor and business groups, according to a recent press release.

The area protected in the bill has long been a battleground between conservationists and the state and Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency regarding a multi-lane extension from the Foothill south toll road (state Route 241) in Orange County south to Highway 5.

The decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is just south of the state beach.

“AB 1426 will make sure that the hard work and advocacy of everyone who has fought to keep this place protected cannot be undone,” Boerner Horvath said. “Protecting this park in statute will bring an end to the years of litigation, and today’s vote brings us one step closer to protecting this special place for future generations of campers, birders, hikers, fishermen and surfers.”

The bill bans any transportation agency or government entity from authorizing, funding, or constructing any new infrastructure projects encroaching on the land currently protected by the San Onofre State Beach and the Richard H. and Donna O’Neill Conservancy.

According to a press release from Boerner Horvath, San Onofre State Beach is one of the top five most visited parks in the entire California system. Its unique coastal watershed attracts more than 2.5 million visitors every year.

This popularity, the release states, has driven thousands to organize in opposition to these construction plans on a scale unparalleled in the state’s history.

“We are thrilled this historic park protection legislation is on its way to Governor Newsom’s desk,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn of the Surfrider Foundation. “The bill cements nearly 15 years of grassroots advocacy to permanently protect all the invaluable cultural, recreational and ecological resources at San Onofre State Beach.”

The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it clear just how essential access to natural places is to the mental and physical health of all Californians. The bill ensures one of the state’s most popular beaches remains undisturbed at a time when local trips to enjoy the outdoors are more important than ever, the release states.

Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) abstained from voting on the bill in the senate because of ongoing litigation related to infrastructure development along the same corridor, although she told The CoastNews she is generally supportive of the bill’s environmental protections.