The Circus Outside the Toll Road Circus Inside

bush.jpgPhoto by Christopher Victorio

Passing through the Del Mar Fairgrounds gates bound for the toll-road hearing inside O’Brien Hall Monday morning, you were first re-directed to a party scene created by 241 opponents. At any time during the 10-hour marathon inside, dozens and dozens of people filled the bustling area outside to sign up with environmental groups, get free food vouchers, make protest signs or acquire pre-printed ones, pose with a cut-out of George W. Bush in a green “Save the Park/Stop the Toll Road” t-shirt and get their own matching t-shirts to wear inside the hearing as a show of solidarity with the anti-Foothill/South extension cause.

Most wound up slipping into the green shirts, but a particularly striking black “Save Trestles” tee featured Ronald Reagan’s bust on the front and a quote the then-governor made in the 1970s when he established San Onofre State Park in perpetuity. Toll road backers now want to pave over The Gipper's gift.

By contrast, the pro-toll road area on the opposite side of the walkway was much more subdued. It was also less populated, with many more union helpers in orange “Less Traffic/More Jobs” tees than visitors at any given time. One bored toll road supporter scanning the dismal scene was overheard dejectedly telling another, “Three hours to lunch.”

Hope was alive, however. “Bobby’s got a whole busload coming,” one orange tee’d unionista told a colleague. The workers were allegedly compensated for their time, which explained the confused look on one Spanish-speaking tradesman’s face. It was if he was thinking, “We get paid for this?”

Six thousand people reportedly filled O’Brien Hall for the U.S. Department of Commerce hearing, with the Orange County Register claiming the number of green vs. orange shirts appeared evenly split. I’d put it more at 65 percent toll-road foes vs. 35 percent in favor of the 241 extension, although there were many more suits (politicians, chamber officials, major county landowners) speaking in favor of the 241 than against it.

After testifying that he has friends and family in San Diego who wonder why the extension has yet to be built, county Supervisor Bill Campbell was spotted rocking outside the hall to a guitar-strumming burnout accompanied by a gorilla-masked bongo player in a green anti-toll road shirt.

“Vance can’t dance but he’ll steal your beach, watch him or he’ll rob you blind,” sang the guitarist.

Only in America.

After an afternoon break, a woman pushing a stroller with two young boys in matching blue “Save the Park” shirts at her side headed back into the hall for more.

“This is taking a long time,” complained one of the boys.

“Political action takes time,” the mother explained.

“We’re wasting our time,” he shot back.

Waiting in the coffee line in a food court area set up outside O’Brien Hall, a lean man lugging swim fins explained the finer points of body surfing. He urged OC Weekly to spread the love it devotes to surfers on boards to surfers who use only their bods. Duly noted.

Walking back to the car around 8:30 p.m., I passed two lonely fellows tearing down what was left of union workers' pro-toll road display area.

“If we don’t get it built,” said one of the bearded fellows, “we wasted a lot of money.”

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