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Finishing what she started: Councilmember Sherri Lightner looks at projects, priorities for final year

San Diego City Council President and La Jolla Shores resident Sherri Lightner in her City Hall office
San Diego City Council President and La Jolla Shores resident Sherri Lightner in her City Hall office
(Ashley Mackin)

Before the San Diego City Council resumed session for 2016, District 1 City Councilmember and La Jolla Shores resident Sherri Lightner’s calendar was already booked.

Between a trip to Sacramento to advocate for the city’s water conservation efforts and days full of meetings, Lightner’s last year on the City Council will be a busy one. She terms-out in November after eight years on the job. Sitting down with La Jolla Light, she shared her goals for her outgoing year.

Among them: Lightner would like to see traffic and infrastructure improvements on Torrey Pines Road; a pilot shuttle program established using the hundreds of thousands of dollars tucked away for coastal access and parking; updates to the City Charter (based on lessons learned from La Jolla’s adventures with lifeguard towers); The Belvedere Project come to fruition, and more.

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“A lot of people asked me after I took office whether being on the City Council was everything I imagined,” she said. “The problem was, I didn’t imagine anything. I never really thought about it other than as an opportunity for community service. I know a lot about land use, I know a lot about the community engagement process and how important that is, so I think that was very helpful. But, I’ve also learned how important it is to listen to peoples’ concerns and address them as best as possible.

“When I first took office, I didn’t know I could influence people, and maybe I didn’t take advantage of that and use my position to advocate for some of the outside programs I thought were important.”

Lightner was elected in 2008, then re-elected in 2012. She was chosen by her peers as Council President in 2014. She is the first female engineer to serve on the Council, and the first female Council President.

Tackling Torrey Pines Traffic

Hoping to reduce traffic congestion on La Jolla’s main thoroughfare, Lightner is an avid proponent of the adaptive signal timing planned for La Jolla Parkway, between the I-5 on-ramp and where the Parkway becomes Torrey Pines Road. The program uses video and software to decide how to adjust timing on traffic lights.

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“It is something that will have real-time interactive adjustments that will facilitate traffic flow,” she said. “If you are going a certain (legal) speed, you should benefit by hitting all the green lights with this system. It doesn’t seem to be that expensive to install and the pilots look pretty good for certain types of traffic configurations. We’re hopeful it will help La Jolla.”

The adaptive signal is scheduled to roll out in late spring or early summer.

Also looking at the gateway to La Jolla, Lightner said Phase Two of the Torrey Pines Corridor Project is being designed. Intended to ease pedestrian activity, Phase Two will install a high-intensity activated crosswalk mid-block between Amalfi Street and Princess Street. The system is a pedestrian-generated crosswalk that uses light signals to dictate who can proceed in traffic. When not in use, the system is dark, and traffic flows uninterrupted.

Other suggestions for Phase Two are an asphalt concrete overlay, a buffered bike lane and a non-raised, decorative median. The pricetag is $1.2 million.

Accessing Coastal Access Funds

Lightner said she and her staff “finally” may have found a way to use the Coastal Access & Parking Board monies that have been gathered largely from developer impact fees and interest collected by the California Coastal Commission since the 1970s – and collecting dust.

The funds were set aside to implement the La Jolla Coastal Access Parking Plan, which involves finding a short-term and/or long-term parking and traffic circulation related programs, and a shuttle system with an off-site parking reservoir. Finding the shuttle component unfeasible and unsustainable, the board tasked with implementing the plan has yet to come up with an alternative way to spend the approximate $275,000.

However, Lightner might have an idea. “UC San Diego has a shuttle program in place, but during the summer when school is not in session, they don’t use those shuttle busses ... we would like to use the busses to shuttle people to and from the beach at Kellogg Park,” Lightner said. “I first thought about it when I found out the Del Mar Fair was using the campus parking lots as a remote site, and shuttling people up there.”

Should the Coastal Commission accept the proposal, visitors would have the option of parking in a UCSD lot and taking a shuttle bus to the beach. It’s unknown whether there would be a cost associated with the shuttle, and the schedule to hear Lightner’s proposal has not been set.

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Charter Review and Revision

As chair of the Special Issues Committee on Charter Review, Lightner will commit much of her last year to getting the City of San Diego Charter revised and up-to-date. “We’re getting better organized at the city and one of the things we will be looking at, with respect to the Charter, is how to facilitate purchasing and contracting within the city,” she said. “Especially, how to make sure we are getting the best value out of contractors, instead of just the lowest bid.”

Citing the experience with La Jolla’s lifeguard towers, which faced multiple problems causing months’ worth of delays (the Children’s Pool lifeguard tower is about a year behind schedule), she said the situation has been “extremely frustrating” and due to charter limitations. “We’re going to try to put more language into the Municipal Code that we can tune-up as we find better practices that are going to deliver for taxpayers. We want to deliver the best value, not just the lowest price.

“In the case of the lifeguard towers, the lowest price has turned out not to be the lowest price (due to added time). It actually cost us more in the long run. At the time the contract was awarded, that was not the case, so we want to fix that.”

On a related note, she said La Jolla’s Children’s Pool lifeguard tower “is going to be done before I leave office!

Boost for The Belvedere Project

“It would be huge to find private funding for The Belvedere Project,” she said. “We doubt it would come to fruition, but it would be nice to see it well underway so there is a timeline by the time I leave. I’d like to get something going there.”

The residential initiative would replace an existing one-way section of Prospect Street, between Herschel and Girard Avenues, with a pedestrian promenade that provides a view of the ocean and Ellen Browning Scripps Park, as previously reported in La Jolla Light. The multi-million dollar project, conceived by La Jolla architect Jim Alcorn, became an official component of the La Jolla Community Plan in 2004, although the question of how to fund it has largely kept it from moving forward.

On the City Front

With the intent of leaving things better than how she found them, Lightner said she would be looking at some of the city boards and commissions (the most recent count is almost 50 of them) to assign a consistency in how they operate and to whom they report – either to the Mayor’s Office or City Council — to give them more legitimacy.

She will also commit some time to developing more efficient techniques for keeping city promises. “We are going to start delivering much better projects. In 2009, there were streets that needed to be repaved that weren’t being worked on until 2012 or 2013. Now we are going to deliver in the same year as these projects are proposed,” Lightner said.

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As her La Jolla Light interview drew to a close, Lightner summed up her feelings about the upcoming year on City Council, “It’s a continual learning experience and, thankfully, I’m willing to learn.” ♦

To reach san Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner’s office, call (619) 236-6611 or send an e-mail to sherrilightner@sandiego.gov


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