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City extends comment period for La Jolla reservoir project environmental report

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)

To provide La Jollans who are concerned with the La Jolla View Reservoir replacement project more time to review its environmental documents, the city of San Diego has further extended the public comment period following the creation of a community working group focused on the project.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association voted unanimously at its Feb. 4 meeting to ask the city to extend the comment period by 45 days.

The San Diego Development Services Department was accepting public comments about the environmental impact report through February; the original deadline was Feb. 15. A department representative said Feb. 5 that it would extend the period through March.

The draft report 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.”

Former city planner Jack McGrory, who lives near La Jolla Heights Natural Park, where the new reservoir would be constructed, said during the LJCPA meeting that “city staff has done a great job talking about this … but the feeling in the community has been that we got a little jammed here. The EIR came out on Dec. 31 and we had 45 days to review it. Our knit group of residents wanted to have more time to review it and work with city staff.

“We want to find solutions to the problems we have identified, and there are many. This is a big project that will close down the park for maybe three years, lots of traffic impacts, etc. We need time to work through this and find a community-based solution to the problems.”

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.

The La Jolla View Reservoir is located off Encelia Drive in the 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 La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee determined Jan. 19 that the draft EIR was “incomplete” because it did not adequately address or propose mitigation for the project’s environmental effects on the surrounding area.

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches board formed a working group of its members Jan. 25 to discuss the project and aimed to work with Community Planning Association members as one collective ad-hoc committee.

LJCPA unanimously passed a motion Feb. 4 to authorize its president, Diane Kane, to appoint members to the ad-hoc committee.

Project plans

Given that the reservoir proposal has been heard by LJCPA subcommittees and other local groups, there was no public comment during the LJCPA meeting. However, during a brief presentation, San Diego associate civil engineer Bilal Oriqat provided an update on questions that had been raised at other meetings. Chiefly, he focused on contract oversight, traffic mitigation and restoration of the park.

At previous meetings, several community members cited past local projects in which managers were not able to deliver what the city had promised. So some were less than pleased when Oriqat said a construction manager would be tasked with key planning and oversight.

“A city inspector will be onsite the whole time,” he said. “In a project of this scale, we are going to have a construction manager who will help. There would be constant checking of the site. The contractor is liable and there are penalties and stipulations associated with every city contract.”

McGrory responded that “you can get the most irresponsible contractor” to carry out city projects. “I’m not trusting a contractor to come up with a traffic mitigation plan or any environmental mitigation. ‘Trust me’ does not work anymore.”

In terms of traffic mitigation, Oriqat said access alternatives were discussed, such as the use of haul trucks and conveyer belts to move soil around on the site, but it was determined that an access road through the park is required.

Traffic consultant Jonathan Sanchez said the route for trucks — which will use the narrow and tight-turning streets near the upper park entrance — was chosen because it affects the fewest number of residents and pedestrians.

Oriqat said creating a “walkway detour plan” would keep a temporary access path open during construction.

“We’re working with our design consultant to provide this in a way that is safe for the public, given the topography and construction operations that would occur,” city project manager James Arnhart said.

Oriqat added, “We know this is a big one for the community, and we are trying our best, honestly.”

Regarding biological impacts, city planner Gretchen Eicher said the project “would involve 5.5 acres of sensitive habitat impact in maritime chaparral and coastal sage scrub. [Projects involving the removal of] maritime chaparral require mitigation of 2-to-1, so for every acre impacted, we mitigate two acres.”

She said the project would restore or revegetate 7.13 acres in La Jolla Heights Natural Park and the rest would be in a Los Penasquitos open space, since the mitigated acres don’t need to be onsite. ◆