Planners slam city’s retaining wall plan for Torrey Pines Road

La Jolla Community Planners want more time to mull over mayor’s climate proposal

The City of San Diego’s designs for a 25-foot-tall retaining wall along a portion of Torrey Pines Road were roundly rejected by La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) trustees during the group’s May 7 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.

The proposed 335-foot-long wall, intended to stabilize the slope and prevent further erosion on the south side of Torrey Pines Road between Roseland Drive and Little Street, will replace an existing gunite (concrete) wall that is old and weathered. The new wall, to vary in height from 13 to 25 feet, will be topped with post-and-cable safety railings and include a concrete brow ditch to deflect surface runoff.

The wall, on the city’s infrastructure bucket list since 2001, is expected to take six to eight months to complete.

Several aspects of the project incurred trustees’ displeasure, including its stark, simulated boulder face, and the city exempting it from environmental analysis and LJCPA subcommittee review.

“The city asked that it not go through the subcommittees to reduce their costs, so they can apply more dollars to the project than staff time,” explained city project manager Jason Guise, noting that the project is now fully funded and that a structural engineer has completed 90 percent of its design.

LJCPA member Don Schmidt said he feels La Jolla’s Traffic & Transportation Board should have reviewed the project before it came to the LJCPA for a vote.

“The really great work that’s done in La Jolla is done at the committee level because that is when the specific questions are asked, and the trustees get filled in,” Schmidt said. “I think that money would have been really well spent.”

LJCPA trustees said they favored a graduated wall design suggested by La Jolla Shores architect and former LJCPA trustee Phil Merten, who noted that the La Jolla Shores Design Manual discourages dramatic cuts in hillsides.

“The idea is to either not make cuts or to try and do something to mitigate the appearance of a cut,” Merten later told La Jolla Light, adding that San Diego Municipal Code suggests using series of shorter walls that “stair-step up the slope, allowing space between the walls for landscaping that could cascade down over the sections of walls and grow up under the face of the wall” to soften its appearance.

Guise said the city’s proposed design is the current standard when a retaining wall is installed in the public-right-of-way.

LJCPA trustee Mike Costello countered, “As a person who sits on (the Development Permit Review) subcommittee I’m going to have to be telling property owners why they can’t have a 13- to 25-foot high retaining wall and why they have to go along with the municipal code and break up a large retaining wall and put landscaping in between. This is a perfect time for the city to follow its own recommendations and do as you or we would tell any private citizen.”

Trustee Janie Emerson, who also sits on the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee, added, “If a presentation like this came to us to be approved we would send you back on a number of issues. … You don’t have a good presentation to give us (for a project) on a main street artery as you come into La Jolla. This is what people are going to see, and it’s abominable.”

LJCPA trustees David Little and Jim Fitzgerald said they felt the solid wall would create an “echo chamber” that bounces traffic noise back toward residences on the opposite side of Torrey Pines Road.

“We’re presented with a project that you said is 90 percent engineered,” Fitzgerald noted. “In my opinion there’s a lot that could have been done if you had got community input early-on.”

A motion passed unanimously that the city return with more thorough plans that take into account trustees’ concerns, with LJCPA President Joe LaCava abstaining.

Although LaCava said the project is long overdue and the slope needs to be stabilized, he said he was “equally disappointed” with the plans. “This is a big, big project,” LaCava said. “We get one shot to do this one right.”

Climate action requested

Trustees considered a presentation by Brian Elliott, a campaign organizer with the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, a watchdog group formed in January by Nicole Capretz, an environmental attorney and former policy advisor to City Councilmember Todd Gloria. Capretz helped develop the aggressive climate action plan Gloria issued when he was interim mayor.

Current Mayor Kevin Faulconer released his own slightly modified climate action plan last fall, which Elliott said his organization is hoping planning groups such as the LJCPA will support before it can be “watered down.” (An early version of Gloria’s plan included a mandate for homeowners to make energy efficient upgrades before selling their homes; Faulconer’s plan merely requires homeowners to disclose energy and water usage to potential buyers.)

“We don’t want other people to come in and say we want softer goals,” Elliott said. “We want San Diego to be the leader in clean energy, not only in California, but in the country.”

The mayor’s draft plan, part of a state mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is undergoing environmental review.

Elliott said Faulconer’s current plan retains “crucial pieces” of Gloria’s plan, including “incremental goals” to redirect 90 percent of garbage away from Miramar Landfill via recycling and composting, and to substantially increase public transportation and renewable energy use.

“Right now, 87 percent of folks who live within a half-mile from transit still drive to work,” Elliott said, noting that the mayor’s plan seeks to reduce that number to 50 percent by 2035.

The mayor’s plan also retained Gloria’s goal that the city obtain 100 percent of its energy from clean and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower, by 2035.

Reaching that renewable energy goal involves the city establishing a Community Choice Energy (CCE) nonprofit structure, which would have purchasing power for the city’s electricity needs. CCE structures have proven successful in Marin and Sonoma counties. “It’s been proven that the rates for people who are in this program are lower and their clean energy content is higher,” Elliott said. “It’s a proven model and that’s why we really need to continue to advocate for it to remain in this plan.”

Currently, the city receives all its energy from San Diego Gas & Electric.

“We don’t have a choice in how much clean energy we can get from SDG&E,” 
Elliott said. “They cap us at about 32 percent right now. They have a state mandate to get a little bit higher than that, but it’s not going to reach that 100 percent level the city is calling for in its climate action plan. Community Choice Energy allows us to do that.”

In the end, trustees said they needed more time to review the mayor’s plan before they could consider drafting Elliott’s requested letter supporting it.

Fitzgerald said that without a cost-benefit analysis written into the plan, it puts forth “goals at any cost.” Schmidt argued that the city has little money to implement the kind of transit that would make a substantive difference, such as a subway or rail system.

“We have these lofty transit goals,” Schmidt said. “Who on God’s green earth is going to pay for this? … I really have a problem with the trustees voting on something where we haven’t seen the details.”

LaCava said there is currently $200 billion available for transit if citizens and officials lobby the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) for transit solutions, rather than freeways.

“Transit is not good today; it’s probably worse than it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago, and we’re tolerating that,” he said. “Unless we set lofty goals and shoot for them, we may not get them — and actually it’s state law that we have to hit them.”

“We can’t even hit our water goals,” Schmidt countered.

“We can if we try,” LaCava said.

A motion passed 14-1-1 to have Climate Action Campaign return to LJCPA’s June meeting, after trustees have had more time to review the specifics of the mayor’s plan.

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