Camp Pendleton shows support for three-year San Onofre State Park extension

By LAYLAN CONNELLY | The Orange County Register | Published: April 27, 2020

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The future is uncertain at San Onofre State Park, a slice of paradise just south of San Clemente – but Camp Pendleton officials support the land remaining in the hands of of the state system for at least the next few years.

Camp Pendleton officials, in a statement released on Friday, noted the Department of Navy is still “carefully considering” the state’s request to renew the current lease, which is set to expire August 2021 after 50 years of being run as State Parks public land.

“California State Parks is excited to continue working with the Department of the Navy on our shared goal to offer high quality outdoor recreation to visitors and protect the natural and cultural resources at San Onofre State Beach,“ said Orange Coast District spokesperson Kevin Pearsall.

While an official lease extension is still in the works, with hopes that a longer lease will be achieved, the statement shows that Camp Pendleton officials support “this cooperation and future collaboration,” the statement from Pendleton officials said.

If a three-year lease extension, which would sunset Aug. 31, 2024, is approved by the Department of Navy, it would allow time to complete the work necessary for a succeeding lease, including updating surveys of the land, the statement said.

“This is a very positive step in the process,” said Steve Long, founder of the San Onofre Parks Foundation. “The indicators are that we will achieve a long-term lease, it’s just going to take time to work out the details. We’re very please that we’ve come to this point, and that the Marines are clearly stating they support moving ahead to get that long-term lease. This is all good news.”

For nearly five decades, California State Parks has been the steward of this stretch of land that spans 6.5 miles just south of San Clemente, with some inland patches where campers seek solace and remote areas where mountain bikers traverse the hilly terrain.

It’s one of the most popular areas in the State Parks system, with an estimated 2 million visits per year.

The state was entrusted as caretakers in 1971 by President Richard Nixon, who sought to give the public a place to escape urban sprawl, a way to make use of surplus federal land that wasn’t being used by Camp Pendleton.

The state was given the deal of a lifetime: a 50-year lease for $1.

For surfers, the area has a rich history, with early modern-day wave riders discovering the Waikiki-like waves, hauling big wooden boards to the remote area tucked away by cliffs.

These days, longboarders from around the world flock to Surf Beach, while Lower Trestles up the beach is considered one of the country’s best high-performance waves. Other surf breaks dot the remote area, drawing surfers willing to take a trek through nature and across railroad tracks to access them.

The 2,000-acre site isn’t just for surfers. Mountain bikers trek the back-country trails, and campers pitch tents along the bluffs at San Onofre trails or inland at San Mateo State Park campground.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation, which has operated San Onofre State Beach, in 2016 sent a letter to the Department of Navy formally expressing its desire that the lease be extended.

The latest statement from Camp Pendleton shows the military here are on the same page.

“A lease extension will balance the installation’s training mission requirements with the needs and desires of the local community for reasonable, non-interfering public access,” the latest Camp Pendleton statement said. “Any subsequent lease renewal will be on terms that best serve the interests of the Marine Corps and public by conserving and protecting military training, outdoor recreation, and natural and cultural resources.”

Surfrider Foundation, based in San Clemente, said the lease extension option is good news.

“San Onofre is truly a world-class park, home to the last remaining undeveloped watershed in Southern California, world-famous Trestles Beach, and 10 federally threatened or endangered species. San Onofre State Beach also protects sensitive cultural resources, including the ancient Acjachemen village of Panhe,” the nonprofit wrote in a statement.

The timing of the park lease extension also coincides with the decommissioning and dismantlement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Surfrider noted.

Surfrider reps said Camp Pendleton has been “an incredible steward of the land, mindful of public access while protecting the environment, endangered species and cultural resources.”

©2020 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.