City says Children's Pool Walk project to begin in June

After five years of planning and permitting (with changes in requirements and plan updates along the way), the City of San Diego has announced a construction start date for the Children’s Pool Walk beautification project: June 2017. Construction is expected to take six months.

The announcement was made at the Oct. 24 La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory board meeting at the Rec Center, where City project managers and engineers spoke about the minor changes and where they were in the process.

Back in 2011, organizer Phyllis Minick set out to improve the walkway area above Children’s Pool with plans that included widening the sidewalk, building new “sitting walls” and replacing old planters with new ones to cover crumbling walls — at a cost of approximately $250,000. Landscape architect Jim Neri was selected to design the plans. 

Neri’s renderings and beautification ideas were approved by LJP&B as a private project. However, a recent Fair Political Practices Commission opinion determined it would constitute a conflict-of-interest violation to have a contractor create plans and then bid on the same project. So Neri was excluded from carrying out the work, and the City took over the responsibility. Rick Engineering Company has been assigned to oversee the project. 

City Project Manager Michael Ramirez said, “When my team and I first got this project, we met with Jim Neri, who this group contracted to draft the concept plans, to learn about this project. … This is a fairly simple project, but because of where it is located, there are a lot of constraints we have to work through. The first one being the schedule.” 

In the area surrounding Children’s Pool, harbor seal pupping season is observed from December to May annually, and then there is a summer construction moratorium observed from Memorial Day (late May) to Labor Day (early September). Ramirez said the team would apply for a waiver from the summer construction moratorium – which he said he expects will be granted – so crews could work from June to December.

“But that still only leaves us with six months, so we’re on a really tight schedule. We have to make sure we plan really well and go in with all of our i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Right now we are on track, and hoping to have the design complete and approved by January and then procure the contractor after that,” he said. 

At the same time, the City must apply for a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), which indicates there would be no significant impact to surrounding environmental conditions and an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) required by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work in an area where wildlife may be disturbed.

In November 2014, while the project was under the auspices of LJP&B, Neri acquired a final MND, but since that time, the requirements have changed and the City has to reapply for the document.

Because the area is so heavily used by people and cars, Ramirez said the team is also working on a traffic plan to find a way to provide access to the overlook during construction of the sidewalk. “We would like to keep it open as much as possible during construction, but we are working on how we are going to do that now.” 

Fearing the crews would not finish in time, and would need to stop where they are on Dec. 15 in observance with harbor seal pupping season, LJP&B member Bob Evans asked what the traffic flow and street conditions would be if the project had to sit, partially constructed during that five months. City senior engineer Nikki Lewis responded, “that keeps us up at night” and that “everyone thinks six months is a long time for a sidewalk, but there are a lot of issues with working in one of the most heavily trafficked areas of San Diego during the summer. But our plan is to have a detour, so even if we have to shut everything down, there is still access.”

In addition to the widening of the sidewalk so it is ADA-compliant, the project involves the installation of short sitting walls decorated in cobblestone and abalone to be consistent with surrounding walls in accordance with Neri’s concept. Planters with pockets of vegetation would also be established, with small post-and-chain fences around them, so they’re not stepped on. Post-and-chain fences would also line the edge of the wall to provide a visual barrier to keep people off the cliffs. The gazebo at the site would be untouched.

Rick Engineering principal Kevin Gibson explained that by and large, “The project hasn’t changed, we just added more details to it.” One of the newer features not in the Neri plans is the installation of a modular wetland in accordance with the City’s water management guidelines. A modular wetland is a small bio-filtration system that will assist in treating the water that flows around the area before it enters the storm drain system. One minor derivation from the LJP&B-approved plans includes paving and striping improvements.

All said, the total cost for the project is expected to be $575,000 – just over double the initial estimate. 

At its onset, the project was intended to be a privately coordinated effort. Minick raised the $250,000 originally needed for the work, largely through hefty donations, and with Neri applied for permits as they became necessary. But during that time, City requirements changed, including the number of permits, studies and scheduling (the work was hoped to be carried out concurrent to the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Tower, but that did not occur). 

When the project became too expensive, and after funding was identified, the City took over management of the project as a public-private partnership. At one time, joking she would like to see the project complete “in my lifetime,” Minick thanked the engineers who presented at the October LJP&B meeting, adding “a lot of us have been waiting a long time for this.”

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