Bird Rock will foot bill for landscaping upkeep

Bird Rock residents voted overwhelmingly Aug. 2 to create a self-managed maintenance assessment district to pay for upkeep of landscaping for roundabout circles and other traffic-calming measures.

A total of 805 of 1,452 ballots mailed out were returned by Bird Rock residents answering the proposal to form the maintenance assessment district, said Andy Field, business manager of maintenance assessment districts for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Of that total, 556 residents cast valid yes votes to create the district, 66.83 percent of total ballots returned, while 249 residents, 29.93 percent of valid votes on returned ballots opposed the proposition.

By an even greater margin, out of 821 total valid votes cast asking residents whether the Bird Rock Community Council should contract with the city to administer the assessment district, 613 residents - 72.29 percent of total ballots returned - favored the proposition, while 208 residents, 24.53 percent of total ballots returned, were opposed.

The annual assessment on property taxes amounts to about $90 per year per homeowner and about $500 annually for a mid-sized commercial business.

The new district’s purpose is to pay for enhanced maintenance of landscaping, hardscape surfaces and improvements in public rights-of-way including medians, sidewalks, bulb outs, curbs and gutters. Assessment district maintenance funds may also be used to provide litter control, landscaping, fertilizer, irrigation, weed and pest control, pruning, edging and tree maintenance. Funds will also be used to pay for trash receptacles, benches and other pedestrian amenities.

Contributions to the annual maintenance district will maintain 60,000 square feet of trees, bushes and flowers in and around five traffic roundabouts, two of which are currently under construction on La Jolla Boulevard.

Now that the vote is in, Joe La Cava of the Bird Rock Beautification Committee said the hard work begins to lay the groundwork for the new district.

“We’re probably going to turn the beautification committee into more of an operational committee,” he said, “to go about the business of actually operating the maintenance district. We’re looking to hire somebody probably on a half-time basis to be set up in Bird Rock to handle the day-to-day business of the district.”

La Cava said the community also must reimburse the city for some start-up costs for the new district.

“We have to have a local entity work out details of the contract with the city and get the Bird Rock Community Council to sign that contract,” he added. “There’s a lot of housekeeping work to be done over the next several months, a lot of operational issues have to be resolved, so the district can hit the ground running.”

Bird Rock must also determine how best to receive public comments for the assessment district and its annual budget, which must be filed with the city. Whether that can be done in-house with the Bird Rock Community Council is yet to be determined.

The first two of five roundabouts in Bird Rock are under construction.

“Roundabouts should be done by October,” said Jason Armison, vice president of development operations for Barratt American, the company building the large condominium project, Seahaus. Barratt American was charged with including the construction of two traffic circles in the development project.

Those twotraffic circles are about half complete. In September, during the project’s final phase, La Jolla Boulevard will have to be temporarily shut down to repave the road surface.

“We’re not sure of the exact duration,” said Armison, “but we’re going to keep it as short as possible.”

Armison added the roundabouts were done in halves so as not to disrupt traffic flow through the area. The 138-unit condominium project is expected to be completed by the end of October.

On Aug. 2, the City Council authorized establishment of a Bird Rock maintenance district fund to establish the new entity, as well as approving a Fiscal Year 2006 budget to operate it. The maintenance district’s boundaries are along La Jolla Boulevard between La Canada Street on the south and Wrelton Street on the north. A total of $50,000 from the district formation fund has been made available to assist with the district’s formation.

The terms of the district’s formation also allow funds to be used to promote community events, such as the recent successful Taste of Bird Rock, and to install or maintain seasonal decorations. Funding can also be used for miscellaneous capital improvement projects including signs, community identification and directional monumentation.

Artwork, street furniture, kiosks, lighting and similar improvements are also permitted.

City senior traffic engineer Richard Leja acknowledged that while all the approvals are in place to set up Bird Rock’s new maintenance assessment district, all the necessary funds aren’t.

“We don’t have all the money we need to build it,” said Leja. “We’ve submitted a Smart Growth Pilot Program grant through the San Diego Association of Governments for regional transportation funding. We have applied for nearly $2 million of that money. We’ll know whether or not we got that grant in September. We think we’ve got a pretty good shot.”

Funding from smart growth grants is to develop transportation-related projects that improve pedestrian safety and streamline transit. Leja said City Councilman Scott Peters office has expressed a willingness to support formation of the new Bird Rock district by allocating other funding to the project.

“The maintenance assessment district project is well supported in the community and the project will promote pedestrian usage and other things that would benefit the community,” said Leja. “We’re glad to be involved, and we are hopeful we’re going to get the grant we need from the San Diego Association of Governments.”

City senior traffic engineer Siavash Pazargadi has been shepherding the Bird Rock Community Council through traffic-calming planning. “This has probably been the most intense community-city staff cooperative program I’ve been involved in in the last 20 years.”

Pazargadi said the city has launched an education program to familiarize residents with traffic circles and proper ways to navigate them. A flier is being circulated with diagrams showing and explaining roundabouts and how pedestrians and vehicles of varying sizes, from cars to trucks to emergency vehicles, should use them.

Unlike traffic signals, roundabouts slow traffic while eliminating left turns, allowing up to a 50-percent increase in traffic capacity. Building traffic circles may save money because no signalization or electricity is required.

“This project is going to be a catalyst for revitalizing the area,” said Pazargadi. “Vehicles are not going to be going as fast as they used to - with people driving 45 mph and not even stopping - which is what the community wanted us to do.”