County bike trail may reduce traffic lane on Gilman Drive

City engineers outlined two upcoming projects at the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting Nov. 3 — a bicycle lane that will run along Gilman Drive from La Jolla Village Drive to SR 52, and the installation of a 250-foot-long connecting sidewalk on La Jolla Mesa Drive.

The bicycle lane is part of the Coastal Rail Trail, a bike route that was originally planned in the mid-1990s to run from Oceanside to the Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego. Segments of the trail have already been built by different cities, and now San Diego is trying to fill-in the gaps for a safe bike route people of all ages can use as a clean transportation mode, part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project will link the Del Mar path with an existing bike route along SR 52. The proposed bike lane is a “Class IV,” which means it’s physically separated from traffic by more than a white stripe.

The stretch of Gilman Drive that will accommodate the project currently includes two lanes each way. City engineers propose to reduce one lane northbound for most of the segment and reduce one lane southbound in the stretch south of Via Alicante. Then, the two-way Class IV bike lane will be located on the east side of the road with a three-foot separation from traffic.

LJCPA vice president Helen Boyden and treasurer Janie Emerson voiced concerns about eliminating car lanes on southbound Gilman Drive, a street that routinely gets backed up by traffic trying to enter I-5. Senior City Engineer Dan Nutter responded that traffic studies showed the backup is caused by the I-5 entrance, and therefore reducing incoming lanes won’t make traffic worse.

But Boyden persisted, “It’s going to make it worse if there’s only one lane, because there are people who want to get on the highway, and there are people who want to go straight through. I think it’s a problem and you should reconsider.”

City staff also received criticism about an extra single bike lane currently in the design phase that would run southbound alongside traffic. “I will never ride downhill on the east side of the road because I have to stop at all those stop lights. Given the choice, every single cyclist is going to stay on the west side because of those intersections,” said trustee Brian Will.

Nutter reassured LJCPA board members that the project is in the early design stages and many changes — including those suggested during public presentations — will be added to it. Said board president Cindy Greatrex, “I suggest that you have follow-up presentations with us.”

La Jolla Mesa Drive sidewalk

A 250-foot-long, 5-foot-wide sidewalk will be added to La Jolla Mesa Drive (between Deer Hill and Bajamar) linking two existing pedestrian walkways. The project includes the replacement of traffic signs and repainting of the street lines. It’s scheduled to begin in summer 2017. “We’re in the design phase at 90 percent completion,” said project manager Alex Bansean.

Asked about the pricetag for the project, which the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year City of San Diego budget set at $826,000, Bansean said that the costs have been reduced. “The initial project was a lot more complicated. We were going to build a retaining wall (to widen the road), but after a lot of analysis trying to reduce our environmental impact, we decided not to put the retaining wall in because it added weight to the slope, which could cause a failure,” he said

Nutter added that the current estimated cost of the project has been set at $500,000. (more information coming from the City).

In other CPA news:

Chelsea Street project: Planners voted to reject a proposal to demolish an existing single-family dwelling and construct an 8,963-square-foot unit at 5228 Chelsea St., supporting a similar decision last month by La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) committee that findings couldn’t be made to approve the coastal development permit.

Applicant Claude Anthony Marengo pulled the item for full presentation by LJCPA after the DPR voted down the project (4-2-1) due to boardmember concerns that the house, which includes a roof deck with a bathroom, was going to be turned into a short-term vacation rental “party” house.

Marengo told LJCPA that he implemented a modification proposed by DPR (and LJCPA) trustee Brian Will, to set back the rooftop bathroom back 6 feet to eliminate the third floor from a visual perspective. During the last DPR meeting, Will made a motion to approve the project including that change, but the board rejected it.

However, neighbors who attended the planning association meeting said they weren’t worried about the aesthetic of having a third floor on a street with one-story houses, but the noise and annoyances that could come from a party house. “He’s building a house on ‘spec,’ his construction cost is going to be $10 million, and he told me he wants to sell for $18 million,” said resident John Silver. “I think it’s not going to be long before he realizes that at that price he can’t sell it (and he starts renting it out). It’s 9,000 square feet, so there’s going to be a lot of people renting it, and with the roof deck, there’s going to be a lot of people there, and they’re not going to be neighbors.”

To the short-term rental accusation, Marengo responded, “There’s a lot of lost value when you rent a home. So to take a brand new home and rent it to whomever, who’s going to make a mess out of it, you’re losing value. If we were doing an Airbnb, we would market it as an Airbnb, and they wouldn’t spend as much money there. We would fix up a few things, add a second story in, and rent it.”

But that didn’t convince neighbors who said they Googled the name of the Las Vegas-based architecture firm on the project, Blue Heron, and found instead a cottage rental business in Ocean Beach by the same name. Planners had doubts about the bulk and scale of the project, in addition to the neighborhood outcry it provoked, and some expressed discomfort in voting against a DPR recommendation they agreed with after conscious review. A motion to deny the project was made by trustee David Little and it carried 9-2-1.

Board candidates: A special election will be held 3-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 at the Rec Center to fill two empty seats on the LJCPA. One seat expires in April 2017 and the other in April 2019. Both will be eligible for re-election for an extra three-year term at the end of the first terms. Three candidates came forward to fill the two seats, Mike Costello, David Gordon and Sheila Palmer.

Village parking: Trustee Will brought up his solution for the parking shortage in the Village: “La Jolla downtown has suffered from losing businesses to UTC because parking is difficult, and I think we, as custodians and residents of La Jolla, need to help. If you live near the Village, find a way to clear your garage and use those two garage parking spaces you’re required to have. Keep the street parking open so we don’t lose our commercial zone. We all have to make an effort to support our businesses and make available what little parking there is. I’m shifting the burden to La Jollans to see if we can do a better job so we don’t lose more businesses.”

The LJCPA next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org

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