La Jolla planners re-affirm request for Environmental Impact Report in for the La Jolla Heights Reservoir Project

La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) re-affirmed its request that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be filed for the La Jolla Heights Reservoir Project, during its Feb. 2 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center. 

The board initially heard about the reservoir replacement project in March 2015. The three-pronged project entails demolishing the existing above-ground La Jolla View Reservoir in La Jolla Heights Natural Park and decommissioned Exchange Place reservoir/pump station near the corner of Country Club Drive and Pepita Way; constructing one 3.1 million gallon underground tank to replace the two that will be demolished; and replacing the current 16-inch Country Club Drive pipeline with a 30-inch pipe.

It is expected that 300 truckloads will come and go to excavate the area and maneuver on a temporary access road to be built through the park over two years. The project is paid for through water rate payers and once complete, the La Jolla Heights Natural Park will be re-vegetated with native plants. 

Reflecting on the last time it was discussed, LJCPA vice-president Helen Boyden said, “We didn’t want to hear it again until there had been an Environmental Impact Report drafted.”

However, LJCPA president Cindy Greatrex explained that, “The City of San Diego Department of Public Works has asked us to hear this again … as an action item where trustees, if they so choose, have the ability to request the action that an EIR is created.” 

Arguing for that action, trustee Patrick Ahern made a presentation on behalf of Friends of La Jolla Heights Natural Park (of which he is a founding member) to showcase the questions that could be answered with an EIR, and which have not otherwise been addressed. An EIR identifies and examines the likely environmental effects of a proposed project, and proposes measures to avoid, mitigate or offset them. 

“This is an important project and there are different ways of looking at it. What we’re wondering is, is this necessary? We recognize that it probably is, but is this the best way to go about it?” he opined. 

Ahern went on to cite that the La Jolla Community Plan shows La Jolla Heights Natural Park (perched atop Encelia Drive near the La Jolla Country Club) is a dedicated park, and therefore should be preserved as open space without disruption. 

“Our Community Plan advocates for protecting environmentally sensitive habitats, which this is,” he said. “Our guidelines and the City’s guidelines for making decisions for the community (of La Jolla) suggest the City should ensure, to the fullest extent possible, natural resources such as shrub and chaparral, and the critters that live there, are protected.” 

He suggested that with an EIR, these issues and how they would be mediated, would have to be explored. Other questions that arose from the room and board included restriction of access to public spaces and environmental impacts on the community, such as traffic mitigation; street safety and noise remediation. “We want all this to be looked at and decided upon with input from this group (all EIRs have a public comment period) and the general public,” he said. 

The City’s position has been that potential environmental impacts could be easily resolved and the project would therefore only need a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), which suggests there would not be major impact, or lesser environmental review.

Attempting to prove this point, City Public Works Department project manager Ed Fordan answered questions piecemeal, and through an informational video. The video explained that due to their age and condition, the City maintains the reservoirs have reached the end of their service lives and need to be replaced to protect water quality and provide appropriate water storage volume for water supply and fire protection. The project is 100 percent designed, and construction is expected to begin in 2018, and be finished by summer 2020. 

Fordan explained the reservoirs were built in 1949 and 1962 respectively, and are no longer able to keep up with water usage demands. “During construction, there will be dust control, erosion control and noise limits that the contractor will need to adhere to. And we have City inspectors who will ensure contractor compliance,” he said. 

One meeting attendee noted the “unpleasant history” with the City contracting process (referencing the infrastructure work in La Jolla Shores that has taken three years off and on), and asked what guarantees they have that this City project would be done right. Fordan replied, “We are going to hire a construction management firm (to partner with) the City, so construction goes smoothly.”

As for the Exchange Place pump station property — which many have advocated be converted into a park — Fordan explained that it’s owned by the City Public Utilities Department and it’s not known what would happen to the property. “At this point, our direction is to demolition the pump station and replace it with native vegetation.” 

Lastly, he said a temporary access road would be built to accommodate the trucks excavating the dirt to limit the number of trips on City streets, and that “flag-men” would help facilitate traffic, and plans were in development to fix any damage to the roads after the fact. 

All said, LJCPA moved to re-affirm its recommendation that an EIR be required for the La Jolla View Reservoir Project in the La Jolla Heights Natural Park, in accordance with the requirements of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the City of San Diego’s Multiple Species Conservation program … due to the potentially significant adverse impacts of the project on sensitive natural resources, and residential neighborhoods. The motion carried unanimously. 

— La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org

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