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DPR Committee says no to La Jolla reservoir project, saying environmental report is incomplete

The La Jolla View Reservoir is planned to be demolished and replaced with an underground reservoir.
The La Jolla View Reservoir, located off Encelia Drive in La Jolla Heights Natural Park, is planned to be demolished and replaced with an underground reservoir.
(File)

After nearly two hours of presentations, questions, discussion and debate, the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee determined that the draft environmental impact report for the La Jolla View Reservoir replacement project is incomplete and voted at its Jan. 19 meeting that findings could not be made to support the development.

The project would replace the 720,000-gallon La Jolla View Reservoir, an above-ground water storage tank, and the 990,000-gallon, partially above ground Exchange Place Reservoir with one new 3.1-million-gallon underground reservoir in La Jolla Heights Natural Park above the La Jolla Country Club area. The existing reservoirs and the Exchange Place Pump Station would be demolished and their sites would be returned to historical contours with native vegetation.

About 30 people attended the Jan. 12 La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meeting to discuss the planned replacement of the La Jolla View Reservoir, many with concerns about the project.

The La Jolla View Reservoir is located off Encelia Drive in La Jolla Heights Natural Park, and the Exchange Place Reservoir is near the corner of Country Club Drive and Pepita Way. The reservoirs were built in 1949 and about 1909, respectively, and are no longer able to keep up with water use demands.

The work would include city crews demolishing the two reservoirs, building a portion of pipeline in the park, constructing a temporary access road to the new reservoir and stockpiling soil to be used to backfill the reservoir once it is complete. Crews would then build the new reservoir and remaining pipeline in the canyon or park area from Country Club Drive to Soledad Avenue. The final task is to complete restoration of the area.

A construction start date was not announced.

The San Diego Development Services Department is still accepting public comments on the EIR through Monday, Feb. 15. The draft EIR and associated technical appendices have been placed on the city website at sandiego.gov/ceqa/draft under “California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) notices and documents.”

In discussing the draft EIR at the DPR Committee meeting online, city staff and consultants described how various effects would be mitigated, specifically traffic impacts from trucks traveling the narrow, winding street that would be used to access the reservoir, along with restoration and vegetation and care of the natural resources in the area.

However, city staff’s planned reliance on contractors to carry out mitigation measures raised some eyebrows.

San Diego associate civil engineer Bilal Oriqat said there would be 3,000 truck trips during the mass grading phase, down from an earlier and “unbelievable” estimate of 14,000 trips (Oriqat said the previous project management team provided the larger estimate) and no more than 50 truck trips per day.

Traffic consultant Johnathan Sanchez said “that does not mean that there will necessarily be constant traffic activity every day. … On those days that are anticipated to be high truck activity, the limit is 50 trips per day.”

Oriqat added: “We do that because streets are smaller and we want to keep it as safe as possible. The contractors would have to make sure the street is accessible for safety vehicles, cars and pedestrians” and that the street will be repaved with slurry. Any pavement damage would be repaired by the contractor, Origat said.

Biological consultant Melanie Rocks said a team went out one day to “do vegetation mapping, assess the potential for rare plants or wildlife and make a list of what we observe during that one point in time. The list isn’t meant to be a full compendium of species present in the whole park; it’s what we saw in that one visit that one day in the project area.”

Oriqat said the area that is disturbed “will be revegetated with a mix of plants consistent with what occurs naturally there. Certain eucalyptus trees will be removed in order to perform the demolition and restoration of the site. The trees that can be saved, which is a fair amount of them, will be kept. What has to be removed, we will replace with native vegetation,” both for natural aesthetics and soil stabilization.

Once completed, the entire new reservoir will be underground, with an access hatch, two air vents, electrical equipment and an antenna mast.

The project team and the public disagreed on whether hiking is permitted in the area and the level of access that would need to be granted. The team identified the area as “dedicated open space” that “precludes active park use,” but community members noted signage at the entrance to the space that suggests park use and hiking are permitted.

During trustee comments, Diane Kane argued that there is “absolutely” a trail at the site, “whether the city recognizes it or not,” and said the project’s impact would be “huge” on those who use it.

Echoing such concerns, trustee John Shannon said: “I think the tax upon the community is going to be greater than anyone has estimated, whether it’s trucks moving things around, workpeople coming in, the damage to habitat, noise, diesel fumes in people’s homes. Maybe this needs to be done, but a lot of work needs to be done to mitigate and minimize these effects.”

Kane and Shannon said La Jolla has a history with contractors that were unable to deliver what the city promised on infrastructure projects.

Trustee Greg Jackson added that “La Jolla, and perhaps all of San Diego, has had terrible experiences with statements like ‘The contractors are going to handle traffic issues and follow all the rules and will put things back in place.’ We have places all over where none of those three things are true. … I wish I didn’t have to say that, because we should be able to trust the city contractors, but the sad fact is it doesn’t work that way.”

Kane recommended forming a committee to work with the project management team “to look at these issues the EIR does not address.”

Jackson said he’s not opposed to the project but felt the environmental impact was not adequately assessed. He moved that findings cannot be made to support the project because the “EIR is incomplete,” specifically in regard to “contractor oversight, the evaluation of access alternatives, traffic management, pedestrian and other nearby resident safety, excavation and soil handling, trail access and restoration, revegetation and handling of properties the project will vacate.”

The motion passed unanimously, suggesting that “the comment period be extended by at least 60 days to allow satisfactory revision of the EIR and collaboration between relevant city and community organizations.”

The project also is scheduled to be heard Thursday, Feb. 4, at the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s online meeting. Kane, who is LJCPA president as well as a DPR trustee, recommended that ahead of the LJCPA meeting, the team “come up with some presentation drawings that adequately describe this project so the average individual can understand what the final product will be.”

The project team said it would try to have renderings for that meeting.

Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆