La Jolla residents start petition to nix trolley station
SANDAG to hold workshop on trolley station design, July 8
■ What: SANDAG will host a series of public workshops in cooperation with local planning groups to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the proposed trolley stations and the design options being considered, and offer feedback. Preliminary designs will be shared for stations at La Jolla Village Square mall, the VA Medical Center, Pepper Canyon, Voigt Drive, Executive Drive and Westfield UTC Mall.
■ When: 3-6 p.m. July 8
■ Where: Westfield UTC Forum Hall, Wells Fargo Bank building (second floor near Nordstrom and the pedestrian bridge), 4545 La Jolla Village Drive, Suite E-25
By Pat Sherman
Could La Jollans’ pens prove mightier than the board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)?
Some residents near La Jolla Village Square (LJVS) mall hope to prove as much, and are circulating a petition to prevent a trolley station and parking structure from being constructed at the mall. The project is part of the northward extension of the San Diego Trolley that includes stops at UC San Diego, the VA Medical Center and UTC Westfield Mall.
The group, headed by Steve Arndt of Villas Mallorca complex (on Villa La Jolla Drive, just west of LJVS mall), sent a letter opposing the stop to SANDAG and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer earlier this month and, more recently, began circulating the petition to residents of other nearby condo complexes, including: Cambridge, Woodlands North and Cape La Jolla Gardens.
Arndt said he began walking the neighborhood and mall gathering signatures last weekend.
The group contends that the project at LJVS would: substantially add to existing traffic congestion; compromise pedestrian and bicyclist safety; not be a prudent use of $24 million in taxpayer dollars (the estimated cost of the parking structure); generate additional pollution from busses and vehicles needed to get trolley riders to the station; increase noise in the late evening and early morning; create an earthquake hazard given the elevated track’s proximity to the Rose Canyon Fault zone; obstruct views of the Mormon temple; increase crime; and duplicate public transportation already offered there.
Arndt said most of his neighbors were not aware of the stop at LJVS until residents of Cape La Jolla Gardens expressed concerns with the alignment of a bridge that will carry the trolley over Interstate 5 (an issue SANDAG has since addressed to Cape La Jolla’s satisfaction).
“I’m guessing the next step is to have the management companies of some or all of these (homeowner) associations meet with decision makers and come up with a better plan that doesn’t negatively impact this neighborhood,” Arndt said.
Attorney Samuel Blick represents the mall’s owners, the pension fund of Florida public employees (operating much like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System).
Blick said the elevated trolley track will be constructed on the eastern perimeter of the mall lot, taking away parking spaces and “wiping out” signage visible from the freeway. “When we were advised of it, we said, ‘Don’t do it, we don’t need it, it hurts us, we don’t need more customers,’ ” Blick said.
The above-ground parking structure is necessary, Blick maintained, because LJVS’s 300 underground spaces are already being used by employees and customers.
“They’re adding the passenger needs of a transit station, so that parking has to be provided for. It’s not optional,” he said. “You can’t wipe out the parking lot of a shopping center, expecting it to function. You’ll have a trolley going through a boarded up center — and that doesn’t benefit them, and it certainly doesn’t help my people.”
Asked if the mall can affix its signage to the parking structure, Blick said it depends on the city’s signage ordinance and what SANDAG will allow. “Maybe,” he said. “We might be able to negotiate that. I’m hopeful.”
However, Blick said fighting the trolley’s route through LJVS is a losing proposition, because the project is for public benefit. If the mall and SANDAG were not to agree upon compensation for “severance” — the legal term for taking a portion of private property for public use — the government could take the property via eminent domain, and pay the mall what it deemed fair market value, Blick said.
“The state, SANDAG and governmental agencies have the right for public purposes to take your property and to damage it,” he said. “The Constitution (allows it), otherwise no freeway ever gets built, no streets ever get built and there would always be somebody that didn’t want it to happen.”
Blick said he is instead working with SANDAG to “mitigate the damage and make it as little as possible.
“SANDAG doesn’t want our shopping center to fail; we don’t want it to fail, so we’re trying to … get a parking structure that will just replace what they’re taking from us and what they’re creating through the transit station demand,” he said. “We’re not looking for extra parking.”
Though SANDAG is now proposing a three-story structure (it formerly proposed a four-story structure with a smaller footprint), plans are not set in stone, Blick said.
“No one knows how much space is actually needed,” he said. “It’s a sophisticated, kind of a complex formula that comes into play. How many cars come and just drop off someone to ride? How many people are going to leave their car there and use it as a park-and-ride? … We hired our experts and they hired their experts. We’re really not bargaining with them. We’re just trying to find the truth.”
As for neighbors’ desire to see the stop eliminated entirely, Blick said he has studied every environmental report and document related to the project, but doesn’t think it’s plausible. “We want it to go away, but I just don’t see how that’s going to happen,” he said. “If they put it on the other side of the freeway then it would have to go through the Mormon (temple) and I don’t think that’s going to happen, with the cost and so on.
“I haven’t missed a thing,” he said. “If you eliminate the station, that would eliminate some of the impact, but you’d still be wiping out parking and signage.”
The cost of placing the parking garage underground would be “ridiculously expensive,” he said, adding “Nobody goes to the transit station and then decides to park underground. That’s kind of a last resort. They don’t feel safe; it’s inconvenient. … They would end up parking in spaces that are above ground (anyway).
“What’s subject to negotiation,” Blick said, “is maybe the size of the parking structure and the location, how many spaces are actually going to be needed.”
Blick said mall tenants received a certified letter alerting them of the trolley stop years ago, although CBRE real estate, which manages the mall, declined to comment.
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- UPDATED APRIL 17: Responding to trolley bridge concerns, SANDAG director ‘optimistic’ compromise can be reached
- UTC residents ask SANDAG to reassess trolley alignment
- UTC residents fear trolley line change will lower home values; proposed parking garage also at issue
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