Hundreds turn out for I-5 town hall forum in Solana Beach

By Marlena Chavira-Medford

Staff Writer

Solana Beach neighbors turned out in full force Aug. 19 to talk about the possible expansion of Interstate 5, a project that would widen the freeway from La Jolla to Oceanside.

About 375 people showed up for the gathering at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church organized by Citizens Against Freeway Expansion (CAFÉ) and Prevent Los Angles Gridlock Usurping Environment (PLAGUE).

Del Mar City Council member Crystal Crawford moderated the event, stressing that all opinions were welcome - though, it was apparent most there wanted to see the project called off, as nobody spoke in favor of it. Instead, neighbors voiced concerns about noise, congestion, air pollution and declining property values that they said would result from an expanded freeway.

“These projects can be stopped, " said Rachel B. Hooper, an environmental attorney working with PLAGUE. Hooper, who practices with the Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger law firm in San Francisco, referenced similar cases she’d won.

When she assured them “this is not a done deal,” she was met with an outbreak of applause.

Solana Beach homeowner Jim Rice said that’s music to his ears. He’s one of six neighbors on Ida Avenue who recently found out that his home could be condemned if the freeway expansion happens. Receiving the notice from CalTans last week was devastating, he said.

“I feel helpless - I feel frozen. I hate this feeling,” he said, adding that the possibility of imminent domain put him between a rock and a hard place. “If I stay, I run the risk of losing my home. And selling isn’t an option because who wants to buy a house that might get bulldozed down to make room for a freeway?”

Curt Digiacomo is his neighbor and also is facing the prospect of losing his home. He and his wife are expecting their first child and just expanded their house to make room for the baby.

“I just added a 245-square-foot room and put a 40-year roof on the place,” he said. “We just sunk a bunch of money into this property. We had plans to stay and raise our family in that house. Now, who knows?”

PLAGUE chairwomen Noel Spaid also addressed the audience, urging anyone against the freeway expansion to make a donation because “it takes money to fight a lion, and this fight will not be won without money.”

Everyone in the audience was also given a Caltrans citizen comment form and offered tips on how to fill it out.

“Think like ‘Jeopardy’ and put everything in the form of a question,” said Pamela Epstein, an attorney working with the Sierra Club. “If you simply submit a comment, (Caltrans employees) may only reply with ‘comment noted.’ But if you ask a question, they must provide an answer.”

Caltrans representatives were invited to attend the meeting, but they declined.

Another 1-5 town hall meeting is slated for Sept 17 at 7 p.m. at the Encinitas community center, 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive.