La Jolla Planners act to change Hillside Drive construction standards

A new standard may have been set for construction on Hillside Drive — both in what will be asked of developers going forward to ensure an easy approval process, and how the City reviews environmental impacts of development projects.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) voted unanimously at its March 1 meeting, to approve a Hillside Drive home-build project because the applicant went “above and beyond” and made concessions not required by the City; and then voted to send a letter to the City asking that it change the scope of its pre-construction environmental review.

Liaghat Hillside project

The standard-setting Liaghat Hillside Vacation & Residence project — which has been heard six times at La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) and twice at LJCPA — was approved due to the extensive number of voluntary mitigation efforts made by applicant Hamid Liaghat.

The project calls for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and Site Development Permit (SDP) to allow construction of a new, two-story, single family dwelling unit, totaling 7,884-square-feet (of habitable space, the property is 8,000 square feet with the garage) on a 0.51-acre property. The vacant site is located on the south side of Hillside Drive, directly north and adjacent to 7520 Hillside Drive.

Among the promises the applicant has made, which Liaghat noted are “above and beyond the construction procedure in the City of San Diego” are: building the property in such a way that it keeps trucks on the property (by building a driveway and concrete pads first and parking trucks in those areas); providing a shuttle system if there is an overflow of workers and trucks, so no vehicles would be parked on the street; installing mirrors on the corners of his property to indicate oncoming traffic for cars on the road; and offering his cell phone number to residents so if a problem arises, they can contact him directly.

“In the event there would be any trucks that need some clearance to get onto the driveway from the tight turn, there would be qualified flag-men to help moderate traffic,” he said, attempting to address one of the many concerns.

As projects have been proposed in recent years, neighbors raised issues of construction vehicles parking in No Parking zones and blocking the street, on which visibility is already limited by the winding nature of the street; project schedules overlapping and so prolonging the hazards posed by construction vehicles; excessive truck weights on a questionably stable hillside; and more.

At the end of 2017, there were as many as 12 projects under review, under construction or recently completed, within half a Hillside mile, between Soledad Road and Via Siena. From end to end, Hillside Drive is just under a mile and a half long.

With this project being the straw that broke the camel’s back, residents objected to it and spoke out at each public presentation. As recently as the March LJCPA meeting, residents continued to argue that the property shouldn’t be developed at all.

However, because of the additional mediation measures Liaghat provided, LJCPA trustees expressed hope it would send a message that the bar had been raised in terms of what an applicant will need to do going forward to get a project passed.

“This is (Liaghat’s) eighth public presentation on this project,” said LJCPA trustee and DPR chair Brian Will. “These items of constructability and staging are not typically things that we talk about, and this applicant has frankly gone above and beyond to do his best to address these issues.

“There is not a single member of DPR who is naïve enough to think there will be no impact to Hillside Drive, but we voted unanimously that if every project on Hillside Drive had thought this much about how to minimize the disruption along the road, we would have a much different situation on that street. We voted unanimously because we wanted to send a message that we appreciate what this applicant did to address community concerns and we’d like to send him (to the City with) a positive vote so these mitigation measures remain part of this project.”

LJCPA and DPR trustee Mike Costello echoed: “I would go a little beyond that and ask the CPA trustees that this too be a unanimous vote to help send that signal … both to the City and to inform future applicants that if they do this nice a job in trying to mitigate the problems on Hillside Drive, they too, can get support for their projects rather than being held up.”

It worked. The vote was 13-0-1.

Changing the MND scope

The other precedent-setting board approval was to send a letter to the City asking that when reviewing future Hillside Drive projects, it look at cumulative impacts on the street.

When a project seeks permits such as a CDP and SDP, the City can issue either a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), which suggests there are no negative environmental impacts that are unaccounted for in the plans; or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which explains the impacts and how they will be addressed.

However, when the City issued the draft MND for this project, residents claimed it did not thoroughly look at the parking impacts and cumulative impact on the street and surrounding residents.

Will explained: “The neighbors and the DPR committee did not feel the community concerns were being addressed in the MND. We commended the applicant for making voluntary mitigation efforts. But the draft MND, which came from the City, made no mention of the construction activity’s impact on the community.

“This letter is about setting a precedent with the City that these items should be required as part of the environmental document … We respectfully request asking the City to add these items to the MND process.”

DPR voted that the letters be drafted, but not the content presented. Local activist Diane Kane composed the letters and circulated them to LJCPA trustees for review.

Trustee Janie Emerson said she appreciated the letter and the work because they “address problems that come before DPR and La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC ), (Hillside Drive divides the purview of the two committees, as one board covers one side of Hillside Drive and the other covers the other side) specific to Hillside, which is something that has not been included before.”

Trustee Dave Gordon said he opposed writing the letter, and favored encouraging the City to better its enforcement efforts. “The real problem is that City staff is not doing its job. This not PRC, DPR or LJCPA’s responsibility, the parking enforcement and code compliance officers are not doing their job.”

All said, the board voted to send the letters 11-2-2.

— La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, April 5 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.