UTC residents fear trolley line change will lower home values; proposed parking garage also at issue
■ Meeting to discuss UTC trolley realignment plans: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13, La Jolla Village Square community room (adjacent to AMC Theatres), 8657 Villa La Jolla Dr.
■ Comment on the trolley extension: firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 595-5620
■ Info on the $1.7 billion Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project (bringing trolley service to UTC): sandag.org/midcoast
By Pat Sherman
Residents of Cape La Jolla Gardens (CLJG) condo complex say the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is on the wrong track with its latest reconfiguration of the San Diego Trolley extension, which will travel through University City to stops at UC San Diego, the VA Medical Center and UTC Westfield mall.
A change in the location of tracks as the trolley approaches a stop at La Jolla Village Square (LJVS) shopping center at Nobel Drive would bring the tracks closer to the CLJG complex, increasing noise and diminishing property values, residents say.
SANDAG representatives will answer questions about the plans during a public meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, March 13 in the La Jolla Village Square community room (adjacent AMC Theaters), 8657 Via La Jolla Drive. SANDAG staff will address modeling, noise and traffic impacts, and other concerns.
In June 2013, SANDAG hosted five community workshops to address project impacts outlined in a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) for the project, including meetings at UC San Diego and La Jolla Country Day School. Several CLJG residents attended one or both meetings. (The period to comment on the DEIR also closed that month).
Based on feedback SANDAG received, the alignment of a trolley bridge across Interstate 5 was shifted 360 feet south of its original location in the DEIR. This also moved the trolley track from a distance of 284 feet from the northeast corner of the CLJG complex to a distance of about 119 feet from the complex. From there, the track will run north along I-5 to a trolley station at La Jolla Village Square (adjacent California Pizza Kitchen).
Michael Krupp, president of the CLJG homeowners association, said the 25-foot high trolley line, as currently proposed, would be at the same height as CLJG’s second story. “You’re talking about a train coming right at the buildings, probably at night, with headlights on,” Krupp said. “People from my (HOA) keep saying it’s going to look like Chicago.”
Krupp said he was first notified of the proposed trolley realignment at a meeting with SANDAG representatives on Nov. 13, 2013. Present were SANDAG’s communications manager, David Hicks, and project development program manager, Greg Gastelum.
At Krupp’s suggestion, SANDAG presented the changes to CLJG residents at their Jan. 9 HOA meeting — during which Krupp claims SANDAG officials did not provide adequate illustrations or detail about the plan changes.
CLJG residents were told the tracks were relocated to avoid placing a single column bridge support in a drainage culvert in the middle of I-5, and due to concerns from representatives of the Mormon temple, on the east side of I-5.
“(Temple representatives) wanted the bridge far away from their property, just like the west side wants it as far away from their property (as possible), and just like the La Jolla Village Square folks want it to impact their parking as little as possible,” said SANDAG’s director of mobility, Jim Linthicum.
During discussions with SANDAG last summer, representatives from the Mormon temple expressed concerns about the bridge blocking views of the temple, Hicks said, noting that two obtrusive straddle bents were replaced with a single column bridge design to allay those concerns.
Straddle bents — large, wide concrete beams supported on each end by two columns — are typically used to support bridges over long spans where a single column design conflicts with facilities below. They are often used to avoid placing a single column between highway lanes.
Though SANDAG said it conducted a noise mitigation study for the project which found no significant impacts, Krupp said no sound readings were taken on the west side of I-5 near the CLJG complex. “What they said was simply inaccurate,” he contends. At press time, Hicks said he did not know whether SANDAG would add a sound barrier at Cape La Jolla Gardens to block noise from the trolley.
La Jollan Will Cooper, who owns two rental units at CLJG, was one of about 30 CLJG residents and owners who attended SANDAG’s Jan. 9 presentation. Cooper said those in attendance were “less than happy about the lack of detail provided by the SANDAG representatives … (who) did not appear to be well prepared for the meeting and this only added to the frustration of the CLJG residents.”
CLJG residents are requesting a number of remedies, including: moving the tracks back to their original location and determining another way to avoid the drainage culvert; changing the elevated trolley tracks to be sunken into a trench lower than I-5 (to reduce visual, vibration and sound impacts); and running the tracks in the gap between the north and south lanes of I-5 (crossing to the west side of I-5 just before the La Jolla Village Square trolley station).
Parking Garage plans
CLJG residents are also unhappy with plans for a three-story parking structure near the trolley station at La Jolla Village Square mall that they say would increase traffic impacts in the highly congested residential enclave, and block a two-lane frontage road residents use to access CLJG.
“SANDAG said that they had done detailed vehicle traffic analysis on the need for this additional parking structure … but they were not able to provide any of this information at the meeting,” Cooper said.
Hicks told La Jolla Light via e-mail that the garage design presented in the DEIR was changed from a 1.4-acre structure of four stories to a two-acre, three-story structure that meets local height restrictions.
The three-story structure will cost about $24.3 million and include 800 spaces, of which 260 are reserved for trolley riders and 540 are needed to replace spaces lost in the La Jolla Village Square parking lot (on which the structure would be situated).
Hicks said SANDAG officials have met with LJVS representatives and that discussions are ongoing to determine if some existing mall spaces could be used for transit, to reduce the number required for the parking structure. To date, Linthicum said the LJVS owners have indicated that they need all their existing spaces.
“If we could buy existing spaces from them at a reasonable price, we would,” he said. “They say there’s certain times of the year when we need every one of those spaces — we can’t give up any. Therefore, the price per space that we would pay from them is exorbitant. It would probably be cheaper for the taxpayer to build a garage there.”
Cooper said the parking garage will block an existing, two-lane mall access road parallel to I-5, increase traffic between the mall and Nobel Drive and impact views. Residents have suggested situating the garage underground and/or modifying its design to preserve the two-lane access road (perhaps situating the tracks and trolley station above the access road).
Linthicum said the project is still in the “preliminary engineering” phase and that there is still time to make design changes. SANDAG is still working with stakeholders on the east (Mormon temple) and west side of I-5 (La Jolla Village Square and CLJG), as well as CalTrans, which manages the I-5, he said.
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