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Should environmental planning precede design on Regents Road bridge?

Opponents of a controversial proposal to build a Regents Road bridge linking University City north and south say the city’s plan to spend an estimated $5 million to design the bridge before a new Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is completed on it, is putting the cart before the horse.

Proponents of the proposed new bridge link argue it has been in the community plan for more than 20 years and is necessary for a wide variety of safety reasons, including the fact it would be a vital transportation link in a community that is growing more swiftly than anticipated.

If built, the Regents Road Bridge would be in Council President Scott Peter’s First District.

Project Design Consultants (PDC) did an initial EIR on the proposed Regents Road bridge, which ultimately was determined to be inadequate and must be redone. The same firm is being considered by the city to do the design work for the same bridge.

The City Council, with the aid of outside attorneys, has determined that it would be appropriate for PDC to do design work for the bridge. Opponents, including City Attorney Mike Aguirre, argue it would be a conflict of interest for PDC to design the bridge after performing an EIR on the project, because it played a significant role in choosing the bridge option.

A contract for design of the Regents Road bridge had been scheduled before the City Council at the end of July. That matter has been postponed, likely until early September following the Council’s summer recess.

Bill Harris, spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders, said, should the contract for design of Regents Road bridge be granted by the Council, the next step in the planning process would be to do a project-level EIR on the bridge.

“Neither of these actions allow for construction of the bridge,” pointed out Harris in an e-mail. “Staff will need to return to Council after the EIR is finished to proceed with construction.”

Harris added the bridge has been part of the UC Community Plan for decades.

“At Council previously was the UC North/South Corridor Study,” added Harris. “As a result of the study, the Mayor supports the bridge alternative as the best project to alleviate traffic and provide another connection in and out of UC, especially for public safety purposes.”

Linda Colley, chair of the UC Planning Group, noted the bridge proposal has been a divisive issue within the community for the last quarter-century. She said community members are split as to whether the bridge falls into the category of a “need” as opposed to a “want.” Colley noted two grass-roots groups have emerged in the community over the issue. She said Friends of Rose Canyon opposes the project on the grounds that it’s not truly necessary and would dispoil the environment.

“Those people see it as chopping up our neighborhood,” Colley said. “They also would like to preserve one of our last canyons (Rose), which is used by a lot of families for running, cycling, nature walks, etc.”

On the other side of the bridge issue, are UC residents like Marcia Munn, president of UC Connection, who adamantly believe the bridge must be built in order to serve the transportation and safety needs of the community, now and into the future.

“We desperately need a bridge to go in,” said Munn. “It’s been in the community plan nearly 30 years. We need another north-south route through our community.”

Munn noted fire trucks and other emergency vehicles are having an increasingly difficult time making it into south UC because rush hour traffic on Genesee Avenue is worsening. “There are days when they (emergency vehicles) have to cross over the median strip and go against traffic coming south from north UC to get to our community,” she said, adding the bridge would also afford an additional escape corridor in the future in the event of another fire, like the Cedar Fire in 2003 which caused evacuation of large portions of San Diego County.

Debby Knight, president of Friends of Rose Canyon, said her group views Regents Road bridge as a boondoggle that would destroy prized environmental habitat while providing little or no benefit to the surrounding community.

“Rose Canyon is one of the city’s nine open-space parks,” Knight said. “It’s one of those irreplaceable assets. It’s the only remaining green belt stretching from Miramar Air Station to Mission Bay. It’s very important for recreation. It’s also important as a wildlife corridor.”

Knight argued a bridge on Regents Road would slice through the middle of the park. “There are very huge environmental problems with doing the bridge,” she said. “There are 27 organizations, citywide and regionally, that oppose this project. Doing a final design on it (bridge) before the new EIR is done: It’s backwards. It’s an outrageous waste of public funds. We’re saying this project isn’t justifiable.”