IRVINE, Calif. - September 1, 2021
In July 2017, the city of San Clemente filed a lawsuit against the People of the State of California, the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (F/ETCA), the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Native American Heritage Commission, the California State Park and Recreation Commission and six environmental groups. The lawsuit alleged 13 separate claims primarily regarding the potential study of traffic solutions that was scheduled to formally commence in 2019 – two years after the lawsuit was filed.
All 13 claims have now been dismissed and the Court has entered a judgment in the F/ETCA’s favor.
“The City of San Clemente chose litigation, abdication, misinformation and disinformation over collaboration. And, they took unnecessarily litigious action against the F/ETCA and its directors, Caltrans and environmentalists. That isn’t the way the public expects government agencies to solve issues – especially at the expense of city and state taxpayers,” said Peggy Huang, F/ETCA Chair and Yorba Linda Mayor.
By March 2021, all of San Clemente’s claims had been dismissed except for three. Those three claims included the city’s challenge to the continued collection of development impact fees (DIFs) from San Clemente developers and an assertion that Streets and Highways Code section 541 requires any extension of State Route 241 to physically go around the city’s boundaries.
Following a July 2021 hearing – during which the Court heard additional argument from counsel for the city and the F/ETCA – the Court granted defendants’ motion for summary adjudication and ruled in favor of the F/ETCA, Caltrans and the other defendants.
With respect to San Clemente’s DIF challenge, the Court found that the city’s arguments “are without merit.” The Court noted that the city has not paid any DIFs, and that the clear statutory language of the Mitigation Fee Act did not permit the city’s challenge.
With respect to the Streets and Highways Code claim, the Court explained that at the time the city asserted its cause of action, an extension of State Route 241 through San Clemente was merely one of many possible routes under consideration, and, as such, “[a]t its inception, the City’s cause of action for declaratory relief was based upon a future event that might never occur and was therefore not ripe for adjudication.” Notably, the F/ETCA emphasized this fact to San Clemente’s representatives on numerous occasions, including during multiple public Board Meetings.
“While the F/ETCA and other defendants remained confident that the Court would dismiss San Clemente’s lawsuit in its entirety, we tried working with the city to find common ground and obtain an out-of-court solution that would save time and San Clemente taxpayer dollars,” said Samuel Johnson, CEO of the Transportation Corridor Agencies. “We tried to make putting the concluded study in the rearview mirror a win-win for both the F/ETCA and San Clemente, but they weren’t interested, and now the courts have told them they were wrong to pursue the litigation.”
With judgment now entered against the city, the F/ETCA – along with the other defendants – are undeniably the prevailing party in the litigation.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) are two joint powers authorities formed by the California Legislature in 1986 to plan, finance, construct and operate Orange County’s public toll road system comprised of the 73, 133, 241 and 261 Toll Roads.