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Coastal panel accepts plan to add to trail

15 April 2004


SANTA BARBARA - The California Coastal Commission approved a plan Wednesday that would add 2.4 miles of beachside path in San Clemente to the California Coastal Trail, a long-sought seashore route stretching up and down the state.

The commission's unanimous approval is a major step for a $5.5 million plan that would add not only a trail but also fencing and overpasses to make it easier for beach visitors to safely cross train tracks to get to the beach in Orange County.

The location is an especially important one to the coastal trail because it is in an urban area where business, access and safety issues converge, making the addition especially difficult to negotiate, said Coastal Commission public access program manager Linda Locklin.

"This particular piece is definitely on the higher end because it's in an urbanized area," she said.

The California Coastal Trail would allow hikers to backpack up and down the coast along the ocean. There are currently trails along 660 miles of California's 1,100-mile coast, but securing a continuous trail could take decades because much of California's coastal property is in the hands of private landowners or the military, Ms. Locklin said.

The San Clemente proposal still needs the approval of city officials and the Public Utilities Commission, both of which were involved in its creation.

The plan was rooted in a 1999 proposal by the city that called for 6-foot fences along the railroad track and less beach access, said Jim Pechous, a San Clemente senior planner. It was opposed by many residents - including members of a group called Derail the Trail - and the San Clemente City Council voted it down.

But the council appointed a new panel which negotiated with the PUC and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Co. to develop the new proposal, which calls for 4-foot fences, several places where residents can use overpasses to cross the tracks, and a more aesthetic design, Mr. Pechous said.