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Planned Ortega Highway Closure Gets Lukewarm Reception

In a 5-0 vote, Lake Elsinore City Council members agreed to throw their support behind the planned Sept. 23 Orangeman Half-Distance Triathlon that will force the closure of Ortega Highway.

The closure of Ortega Highway for a triathlon event this fall got a reluctant endorsement from the Lake Elsinore City Council Tuesday night.

In a 5-0 vote, council members agreed to throw their support behind the planned Sept. 23 Orangeman Half-Distance Triathlon founded by promoter Go Forward Racing of Dana Point. As part of the competition, the Ortega is scheduled to close on race day from approximately 7:15 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. The closure will allow participants to compete in the cycling phase of the event, which will include a 20-mile stretch of the Ortega from San Juan Capistrano to El Cariso Village and back.

Go Forward Racing co-founder David Flournoy told council members Tuesday he needed the city’s support in order to move forward with the Caltrans encroachment permit process. A five-mile portion of the event’s cycling phase is on the Riverside County side of the Ortega.

, but Assemblymen Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore) said residents in Riverside County were not given proper notice of the road closure.

“This is not a suitable road to be used for a specific entertainment venue,” “The Ortega is a huge tourism draw for local businesses and a major highway with no nearby alternate routes.”

Flournoy told council members Tuesday that he has not obtained a letter of support from Jeffries for the 2012 event, but the Assemblyman offered suggestions on how to improve communications to ensure residents are notified well in advance of the Ortega closure.

Councilwoman Melissa Melendez pleaded with Flournoy to provide signage throughout Lake Elsinore -- well ahead of time -- to let residents know of the planned SR 74 closure.

Flournoy promised to comply, and said he’s already received local backing. The Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce, Skydive Elsinore, and the Lake Elsinore Motorsports Park have all provided letters of support, he said.

Councilman Bob Magee said the Chamber’s backing is the only reason he voted to endorse the race.

“I think this is a great event for Orange County. I don’t think it’s a great event for Riverside County,” he said.

Magee and his fellow council members said the triathlon offered little benefit to their city, and they called on Flournoy to consider a Lake Elsinore venue.

Kim Cousins, president/CEO of the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber board of directors backed the triathlon this year as a “tit for tat” to bring the event to “this side of the hill” in the near future. He said last year’s race saw 60 Riverside County residents participate.

Flournoy didn’t make any commitments to future races Tuesday night, but he said his company is looking at some sort of event centered around the lake.

julian March 28, 2012 at 03:09 PM
A similar Tri event could definitely be stage on our side of the mountain. We have a large lake to swim, many great roads for a bike component as well as for the running. This actually sounds like a good idea to me.
P.D. March 28, 2012 at 04:35 PM
what a bunch of idiots. Hummm... sounds like we'll be looking for new councle members @ election time
Keith Allen March 28, 2012 at 05:46 PM
This road should only be closed for Maintenance and Emergencies. Recreational road closures should NEVER happen on this road. There are no convenient alternate routes.
julian March 28, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I sort of agree with Keith. Because alternative routes are the 91 from the north and the 15 from the south. It is asking quite a lot of locals to find alternative routes just for a private recreational event. That It is on a weekend morning is better but some people commute weekends. Couldn't they have just use one lane and have the other lane open to traffic on an alternating one way basis? What if this event just gets bigger and bigger each year? I can see the appeal of using this scenic route for the organizers but frankly it is also a necessary route for some commuters. Honestly though if the TRI event were based in Elsinore - then I would be ok with closing the road because it would mean business and exposure to our town so I'm a little biased.
D. Flournoy March 29, 2012 at 02:07 AM
The sport of triathlon is growing and brings economic benefit to the regions in which the events occur! Anytime you bring people into the area on either side of the mountain, they spend money; this creates stimulus in the form of revenue, jobs, etc. Last year, we spent substantial money at El Cariso businesses; we held several pre-race functions and purchased promotional items. They appreciated this business during tough economic times and liked the spectators who came and patronized their businesses. Yes, the road closure may inconvenience a few motorists however, commuter traffic on Sunday mornings is low and can be mitigated with advanced notification. Additionally, the race will benefit several non-profits in both counties so I believe the overall benefit is greater. Residents can still get out and the highway will be open before noon. We look forward to putting on additional events in LE and hope all will participate.
Martha L. Bridges March 29, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Economic benefit my foot! The taxpayers funded this road and it should be open to them to use at all times except for planned and necessary maintenance wrok and emergencies. I am tired of hearing this beating of the "developer drums" from the Chamber of Commerce gangs. As it is we have to work around street closurers and traffic congestion for any number of "events" which do little to nothing for our communities but line the pockets of these questionable organizations. Lets think this one through. The taxpayers paid for an essential link between their homes and work, services and businesses. They have first call on that link and should be allowed to use this road for its primary purpose.
TRUTHBTOLD March 29, 2012 at 06:03 AM
Boy, Martha, I'm sure glad I don't live in your world. Any time you do anything you affect other people. I've participated in sporting events for the last 30 years from New York City Marathon to Ironman Canada etc. You don't think New Yorkers are inconvenienced when 5 boroughs are shut down for 3/4 of a Sunday.... or LA City Marathon slicing through the heart of LA for 26 miles. These events lift the spirits and enthusiasm for not only the participants but their families and friends. I think we can shut down the Ortegas once a year for half a day for 800 people who have very few opportunities open to them because of close-minded people that hate any inconvenience. Take the 91 or the 76..... it might take you an extra half hour to cross the mountains, but hundreds of people with thank you for it. I've always been thankful to organizers that are willing to risk their money and put in all the hours to make these events work... and to the hundreds of volunteers passing out water bottles and wet sponges to make my experience tolerable.... come on Martha, give these people some slack. Not everything is about the money!
Ken Mayes March 29, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Some people will complain even if hung with a gold rope. First they complain that the last such event was held with no notice and now that plenty of notice is given for and event that will shut down the roadway for 5 1/2 hours on a sunday morning when most of the traffic is motorcycles racing the roadway (they do this because there is very little traffic) people complain. As long as the State of California designates the Ortega Highway as a scenic highway (not a vital link) paid for by the taxpayers of the state not Lake Elsinore they will allow these types of events. It does not matter that the people of this area use it to travel to and from where ever, the state has provided other routes in and out of the area, so plan ahead.
TRUTHBTOLD March 29, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Ken - Amen!
julian March 29, 2012 at 01:31 PM
LOL, there is a difference that you are avoiding here. When we hold the NYC Marathon there are easy alternative routes. Any inconvenience for the NYC Marathon is limited to a few extra miles at most. In this case of Ortega Hwy we are talking about an isolated yet major thoroughfare whose alternative would be a huge inconvenience. Why don't they close down PCH and keep it in the OC?
julian March 29, 2012 at 01:34 PM
LOL, the El Cariso Businesses? What all two of them?
Martha L. Bridges March 29, 2012 at 02:11 PM
If as you say "Not everything is about the money!" then why is it that most of the supportive comments and justifications for this event are centered around the money which will come into the communities and non-profits? It's the local Chambers of Commerce and the event organizers that are pushing the money angle, not me. It's questionable whether this kind of temporary influx of money is really good - these events tax our already thin public safety personnel, and often create a real clean-up challenge. Certainly it will negatively impact many businesses and tourist attractions who are open year round and depend on the Ortega to bring them the customers they depend on. I'm not talking about inconvenience for myself, but for the many other people who will be impacted by the closure. Obviously, the organizers of this event would like to see it grow in size and profit, which will add more traffic and congestion to the mix every year - and we already have a lot of other events that congest or close down heavily used roads and off ramps. Like so many of my neighbors, we moved out here to get away from this kind of event and the hassles that come with it. As the article says, “This is not a suitable road to be used for a specific entertainment venue,”...“The Ortega is a huge tourism draw for local businesses and a major highway with no nearby alternate routes.” And, please, with the current skyhigh price of gas don't suggest a longer alternate route!
Martha L. Bridges March 29, 2012 at 02:46 PM
So many hundreds of people in our inland valley and at our local, established businesses and tourist attractions should be inconvenienced or negatively impacted to provide maybe 800 people with an entertainment event? Ken, you say "It does not matter that the people of this area use it to travel to and from where ever". Well, it may not matter to you or the organizers of this event, but it such does matter to a heck of a lot of people who don't want to spend extra time and money to use alternate routes. For many people the Ortega IS A VITAL LINK which takes them to work, to family and friends, and to shopping and entertainment venues we don't have locally. It is also a vital link to bring weekend customers to our local businesses and tourist attractions throughout the Temecula Valley from the western side of the hills, and you can bet that it matters to all these folks that this scenic highway is open for their customers. But you are right that we should plan ahead - we should get started immediately to have the State of California to redesignate the Ortega Highway so that it remains open for the purpose it was built for...
Rosa Hasler March 29, 2012 at 05:24 PM
It's only 5 hours on a Sunday morning!!!!!. Plan ahead.
TRUTHBTOLD March 29, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Martha - the reason race organizers address the economics is because that's what their audience wants to hear. It's the same pitch you hear from builders, commercial developers etc. When Mike Taylor addresses the City Council to obtain design review approvals, he focuses on the economic benefits to the City.... not on what a wonderful experience the homeowners will have. Our society needs events like marathons, triathlons, air shows, parades etc. just as we need places to live. "Hundreds of people inconvenienced".... are you kidding me... on a Sunday morning? I'm glad we're having this discussion so more people will be hear about the event and plan accordingly. Good luck to all the participants!
Martha L. Bridges March 30, 2012 at 02:59 PM
The economic benefits from this sort of event, if they exist at all, are temporary and short lived. Please understand that I am not questioning the good intentions of the events' participants or their enjoyment of sport or competition, but the logic that is used to "sell" these events as being financially beneficial - beneficial to whom? In most cases certainly not the people who have already invested in their communities by buying homes and establishing businesses and now have to live through these disruptions. You are, however, correct that the builders, commercial developers etc. use these same questionable arguments to convince City Councils and other public officials that their projects will bring financial advantages, jobs and GROWTH. For the Chambers of Commerce and most city councils there is no such thing as bad growth. Their very existence is predicated on prompting development and growth - no matter how false these promises are or how damaging that growth actually is to the area. There's a lesson to be learned from this kind of thinking, and it is going to prove to be a very painful one all across our region and the whole nation. Ever increasing growth is not sustainable and our society's dependence on excessive consumerism of all kinds will be the cause of our fiscal collapse and ruin. Unfortunately, in this recessionary economy the beating of the developers’ drums for more and more growth has drowned out the voices of caution and logic.
Robyn Certain April 03, 2012 at 03:28 AM
The State of California has never designated Ortega Highway as a "scenic highway". It is a major arterial highway carring thousands of vehicles every day of the week. This sounds like a great event for somplace out in Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego. Not on the 74.
TRUTHBTOLD April 03, 2012 at 05:59 AM
You're absolutely right about the reliance on growth to sustain the economy. We're seeing the consequences right now.... those cities that invested wisely don't depend on building permits for a stable economy. But those that haven't will approve anything just to see those developer's dollars. And at what cost to the quality of life for the communities impacted by these knee-jerk approvals. All I can say is more people should show up to Planning Commission and City Council meetings, study the new proposals and stand up for higher quality developments. Perhaps we should amend the Municipal Code and require a higher ratio of park acreage in R-1 developments. Or restrict minimum lot areas in hillsides to half an acre. There's much that can be done.... people just have to educate themselves and take action.

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