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Trestles: Historic place? Historic treasure?
Is a surfing beach bordering San Clemente an American treasure that should be listed in the National Register of Historic Places? That's what the Surfrider Foundation hopes to do – get Upper Trestles, Lower Trestles and five other strands at San Onofre State Beach rated as important by the National Park Service.
It may not seem a topic that would provoke a fight, but it's drawing attention in the weeks leading up to a Feb. 8 meeting of the State Historical Resources Commission in Sacramento.
"I'll be up there for sure," said Mark Rauscher, coastal preservation manager for San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation.
FOR AND AGAINST
Surfrider will cite contributions of the Trestles and San Onofre surf breaks to surfing as a sport and culture; San Onofre gaining fame as the Waikiki Beach of California in the 1930s, a place where generations grew up surfing and evolving the culture; and Trestles as an international icon today as North America's only stop on pro surfing's world tour.
Orange County is opposed, suggesting that Trestles' area is integral to Marine Corps training and arguably has had less historical influence on surf culture than surfing venues like Huntington Beach and Malibu.
The Navy, which owns Camp Pendleton where the surf breaks reside, argues that Trestles doesn't meet National Register criteria. Camp Pendleton has not taken an official position, a base spokesman said. The San Onofre Foundation is neutral.
The staff of the California Office of Historic Preservation supports the designation and says it has received many endorsements for the nomination. Supporters include the Malibu Surfing Association, the Huntington Beach Longboard Crew, the California Surf Museum and John Severson, founder of Surfer Magazine. "I sincerely hope that future generations will be able to experience this natural setting and the rich surf culture of the area," Severson wrote.
In July 2008, the state Office of Historic Preservation visited the proposed historic district and met with Surfrider, which led to research into Trestles' eligibility. Five months earlier, a Surfrider-led movement had stopped a plan by Orange County's Transportation Corridor Agencies to extend the 241 Toll Road to I-5 at Basilone Road, behind Trestles.
The seven San Onofre beaches that make up the proposed district are on Camp Pendleton land that the Navy leases to the state. San Onofre State Beach is 41 years into the 50-year federal lease to allow public recreation. As commander in chief, President Richard Nixon decreed in 1971 that the Navy would lease a stretch of Camp Pendleton shoreline as a state park. The proposed district is 2.25 miles of beach.
WHAT IT MEANS
The lease is up in 2021. Surfrider's Rauscher said he doesn't foresee the Navy not renewing the lease in some fashion. "The area is too important," he said. "Can you imagine the outcry and the uproar if all of a sudden the Marines said you can't surf here anymore?" He said the 241 extension is "always in the back of our minds but it isn't a real threat right now."
Rauscher described a historic listing as "a proactive step ... one more layer of protection to try to fend off any future threats, whether it's the toll road or something else ... and it's to sort of raise the importance of surfing and surfing culture in America. There are no other surf spots (listed as historic), and that's one reason it's so cool."
Carol Roland-Nawi, California's historic preservation officer, said in a letter announcing the Feb. 8 commission meeting that a National Register listing would help preserve California's heritage and assure that any federal project that might affect the character of the historic property will be reviewed. It doesn't mean that the government would attach restrictive covenants to the property, the letter said.
"We've basically worked it out with Camp Pendleton," Rauscher said. "They're comfortable with it." The nomination specifies that "the Marine Corps must retain the flexibility to use its coastal and offshore amphibious training areas without constraints" and says that if the Marines find that training is adversely affected, the Corps can request removal of historic status and the state would support the Marines' request.
Supporters say Trestles is a world-class wave, and San Onofre beaches fostered surf culture in a rustic setting that still exists. "Given its location at the southern end of Orange County and the northern boundary of San Diego County, two of the most populated counties in the state, it is vitally important that this stretch of coastline be recognized and preserved for its historical and continuing contributions to the sport of surfing and beach culture in Southern California," the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club said in its endorsement.
"This area is invaluable," wrote Gary Stellern, 78, describing himself as a longtime Malibu Surfing Association member. "Please help us protect it forever."
THE NAVY'S TAKE
"Trestles is not the sole example – or even the best example – of a property type important in illustrating the historic context of surfing in the United States," the Navy's response to the nomination said.
Many beaches have legions of support for status as prime surf venues including "Surf City USA" Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz, the Navy said, also listing Blacks Beach of La Jolla, Cape Hatteras, N.C., and the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
"Trestles, on the other hand, while considered a good surfing location (mentioned in the Beach Boys' song 'Surfin' U.S.A,') is listed without any reference to national uniqueness and appears to be just one of hundreds of such relative nondescript good surfing beaches around the U.S.," the Navy wrote.
ORANGE COUNTY'S VIEW
County supervisors voted Oct. 2 to oppose the nomination on advice from a county staff report that said the designation "could impact our Marines training efforts now or in the future." John Moorlach, chairman of the board, sent a letter of opposition to the state together with 17-page paper that county staff said was "written by staff and attorneys at Transportation Corridor Agencies." The TCA sought for years to extend the 241 Toll Road – which now ends at Oso Parkway – to I-5 at San Onofre as part of Orange County's Master Plan of Arterial Highways.
The report describes Trestles as not exceptionally important to surf history compared with other beaches. "The 8.5 miles of uninterrupted beaches in Huntington Beach, Calif., is known as 'Surf City USA,'" the paper says, "a place where the quintessential mild and mellow California beach culture that made the state famous still perseveres," with beaches that feature "the most consistent waves on the West Coast." Malibu, the paper says, was "a surf-culture hothouse and the center for much of the advancement in surfing performance and board design from the 1940s to 1960s."
By contrast, "Trestles was simply an out-of-the-way surf spot that some notable surfers frequented on occasion," the paper says, adding: "Is surfing important in American history? The answer is no."
The paper says that the wooden trestle for which Trestles is named was recently rebuilt in concrete, and paved paths also have altered the proposed historic district. The report also cites the Navy's efforts to enhance a railroad underpass within the area to allow bigger tactical vehicles to move from the beach to inland training areas on the base.
WHERE IT STANDS
In July, the Navy's preservation officer rejected California's nomination of Trestles and refused to submit it, saying it didn't meet criteria. The state appealed to the keeper of the National Register, who in September sided with the state and allowed the nomination to proceed.
At 9 a.m. Feb. 8 at Secretary of State Auditorium in Sacramento, the State Historical Resources Commission will consider forwarding the nomination to the feds.
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