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The California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to save Panhe and save San Onofre State Beach and stop the proposed toll road through the park on February 6, 2008. The City Project and Native Americans who are members of the United Coalition to Protect Panhe (UCPP) were instrumental in achieving this result, and in making sure that Native American concerns were fully and fairly addressed. The struggle never ends. The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has appealed to the United States Department of Commerce. At the present time public comments are due beginning April 28, 2008.

Dana Parsons wrote in his Los Angeles Times column: “With all the talk of surfers and environmentalists, it seemed a concern for sacred sites was overlooked. But one observer sees the outcome as a convergence of interests.” Rebecca Robles, an Acjachemen woman who is a leader of UCPP, said in a poignant interview:

“Places like this are important to us, because it’s our history, our connection to who we are,” she says. “But the other part that worried me is that I’m an American. I’m a Native American, but I’m an American. I love this country. I love this country. I believe in all the stuff about freedom and justice and our ideals. We lose our greatness as a country if we lose our ideals, if we let everything be destroyed. If what’s important to native people is their religious freedom . . . a toll road through a sacred site would have destroyed something that was irreplaceable. Most of the people, I don’t think, got it. Our allies eventually got it.”

We diversified support to save Panhe and San Onofre, beyond the traditional conservation alliance.

This work was made possible in part by the generous support of the Resources Legacy Fund and the California State Parks Foundation.

You can view eleven short YouTube videos of the California Coastal Commission hearing are available on our website at and Commissioner Mary Shallenberger voted against the toll road because the impacts on Panhe violate the Coastal Act, citing the work of The City Project and UCPP. Other commissioners also cited the impact on Panhe and the Acjachemen people, and the need for affordable recreation and transportation for people who cannot afford to pay the toll. Members of the Acjachemen nation sang a prayer before the Commission. Acjachemen leaders Louis Roble, Jr., Rebecca Robles, Joe O’Campo, Joyce Perry, and Stella Osborne talked emotionally about the meaning of Panhe in their lives and culture. Robert García and Angela Mooney D’Arcy, an Acjachemen woman, described the diverse and growing alliance to save Panhe and San Onofre, and how the toll road vioates the Coastal Act and equal justice for all. Commission staff and the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) explained how the impacts on Panhe and the Acjachemen people violate the Coastal Act. California State Parks Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Goldstein described the values at stake to save the park, and the need for affordable recreation and transportation, citing the mapping and demographics work of The City Project and GreenInfo Network on who uses San Onofre.

The proposed toll road would violate the law; harm recreation including hiking, biking, camping, and surfing; threaten endangered species; diminish precious coastal open space; severely impact the sacred site of Panhe, and harm the local Native Americans, who are members of the Acjachemen Nation, and the people of California and the nation.

San Onofre State Beach is one of California’s most popular state parks, receiving over 2.4 million visitors per year. The proposed toll road would represent the first time in California that state park lands were taken by a local governmental entity for a major infrastructure project. Allowing this project to proceed would set a dangerous precedent, threatening coastal parks, open space, and cultural, historical, and Native American resources everywhere in the State.

Panhe bears a special meaning in Acjachemen — as well as non-Indian — life, culture and history. Panhe is an ancient Acjachemen village that is over 8,000 years old and a current sacred site, ceremonial site, cultural site, and burial site for the Acjachemen people. Many Acjachemen people trace their lineage back to Panhe. Panhe is the site of the first baptism in California, and the first close contact between Spanish explorers, Catholic missionaries, and the Acjachemen people in 1769. The Acjachemen people built the mission at San Juan Capistrano. Destroying Panhe would hurt not only the Acjachemen people but all the people of California and the nation.

The proposed toll road would impermissibly harm the Acjachemen people, impair their access to Panhe, and impair their ability to practice their religion. The toll road will impair their freedom of religion, freedom of association, and beach access rights.

The toll road would also discriminate against the working poor with limited or no access to a car, people of color, and low income communities. The toll road would disproportionately deprive them of affordable world class recreation and access to a public beach and park. San Onofre provides such opportunities at the San Mateo Campground, on hiking trails, and through surfing at Trestles. These communities disproportionately cannot afford to pay tolls for commuter or recreational travel. The toll road will not relieve congestion but instead increase development and traffic.

Over 2.4 million people visit San Onofre State Beach each year. More than 88% of campers at the Beach’s San Mateo campground reside in California, and over 93% of these California campers reside in the 8 counties with the greatest need for green space. San Onofre is also located in one of 8 counties with the greatest need for green space – in combined terms of fewest acres of green space per thousand residents, and highest levels of child obesity, youth, poverty, and people of color.