Hapless Hillside: Building projects rile residents on La Jolla's restrictive road

Those plagued by the excessive construction projects along the narrow, winding Hillside Drive are no longer suffering in silence. Having reported their concerns to the City behind the scenes to no avail, a group of Hillside residents took their troubles to various La Jolla community boards this month to state their frustrations.

Discussions of Hillside Drive problems arose at the Jan. 16 La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) and La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) meetings — a unique double-whammy because they were held on the same night at the Rec Center, so residents raised their concerns at one meeting and then walked across the hall to raise them at the other — and the next day, they hit the Jan. 17 La Jolla Traffic & Transportation group meeting.

Still another discussion is planned before the La Jolla Community Planning Association, Feb. 1.

As previously reported in the Light, Hillside Drive residents have been lamenting the number of ongoing construction projects occurring at the same time on the narrow street. At the end of 2017, there were as many as 12 — under review, under construction, or recently completed — within a half-mile of Hillside, between Soledad Avenue and Via Siena.

From end to end, Hillside Drive is just under one-and-a-half miles long. There are some 50 houses on the stretch, but a survey has been requested to determine exactly how many parcels line the street. Properties there list for sale in the $2-million to $8-million range.

Among the issues troubling residents are: 1) construction vehicles parked in red-curbed no-parking zones that block the street on which visibility is already limited by its winding nature; 2) project schedules overlapping, prolonging the hazards posed by construction vehicles; 3) excessive truck weights on the questionably stable hillside; and more.

Case in point

A construction project came before the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) on Jan. 16 that seemed to exemplify these concerns. Residents heard plans from project applicant Francisco Mendiola, whose name has raised red flags due to the number of his projects on Hillside Drive and the issues with them.

PRC heard how the project known as the K-3 Residence, at 7661 Hillside Drive, calls for the demolition of an existing residence and the construction of a new 5,312-square-foot, two-story-over-basement unit on a 0.14-acre site (6,098 square feet). They heard about height and layout, and the finishes that would be used. And while they looked at renderings and cross-sections, they saw only one thing: The address.

The residents, visibly and audibly frustrated, asked questions about scheduling, staging and more.

Mendiola said once the project is approved, it would be 14-18 months until completion.

“You promise?” quipped one audience member.

When asked about traffic mitigation when trucks would be brought in, Mendiola responded: “There is really no way around it. If I told you (blocking the street) is not going to happen, I’d be lying to you. There will be times when trucks will have to block the area to get in or get out, because it is a narrow street. The only thing we can try to do is minimize it. Because of the slope, there is a narrow area you can use. We have to have people control traffic.”

There will be vehicle staging on the lot, but that’s limited by slope and timing, he said, adding, “It’s not possible to have a staging area where you’re working. The staging area we create is small until we’ve completed the grading. But the area is about 15 feet,” he said.

Per the board’s request, Mendiola will return to a future meeting to present additional information.

Action plan

As to why this bottle-necking of projects has been happening, some theorized that it’s because Hillside Drive divides the purview of La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee and the La Jolla Development Permit Review committee. Home-build projects on one side of Hillside Drive are reviewed by the Shores and projects on the other side of Hillside Drive by the La Jolla DPR, and there is no coordination between the two groups.

The City’s Department of Development Services did not respond to Light inquiries beyond acknowledging: “it appears Hillside Drive is a boundary of the La Jolla Shores Planned District,” and did not address whether there’s a possibility of changing the boundary lines.

However, La Jollan and former City planner Diane Kane explained: “Using roads as boundaries between community groups happens elsewhere in the City, but I can’t tell you exactly where or how many areas are affected. It causes the problems we’re experiencing — different review criteria and lack of coordination.”

Kane is drafting and circulating a petition asking the City to: put a moratorium on future construction permits along Hillside Drive until the City can evaluate the street; determine the truck weight and volume the street can withstand; implement a construction management plan requirement; and repair the road.

John Gilchrist, who has lived on Hillside Drive for almost 30 years, said he supports the idea of having the City evaluate the street’s capability. “There needs to be some understanding as to how much construction can be handled at one time. If everything currently in the planning process comes to fruition, there’s going to be an unbelievable impact on that street,” he told the Light.

He said a primary concern is construction vehicles blocking access from residents and emergency vehicles, and lack of traffic control. “When there are a couple of cement trucks parked, there isn’t enough room for an emergency vehicle to pass. We have a lot of older people, myself included, who are faced with construction activity impeding emergency vehicles,” he said.

“Every morning when I go to work, there are construction vehicles parked on both sides of the street. Neighbors have been stopped in traffic just leaving their street. There are no flagmen to direct traffic, so when you need to get around a truck, you take your own life in your hands and hope there’s nothing on the other side of that bend.”

Gilchrist said he further worries that four or five of the planned projects will be “spec” houses, built with the hope that someone will eventually buy them, but without a buyer in mind. “It’s one thing when someone is actually going to live in the house being planned,” he said, “but when there isn’t an eminent resident, there is less concern for the neighborhood.”

Hillside Drive residents are expected address the La Jolla Community Planning Association, 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org

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