DEL MAR — With the public review period closed for the draft environmental impact report on the village specific plan, city staff has been working to address and respond to the approximately 70 comments received.
Those focused on traffic and mobility were presented at the June 4 meeting, after which council members reaffirmed their preference to reduce Camino del Mar to two lanes with roundabouts.
“I am more and more convinced that the roundabouts (are) almost like a life preserver to us as a community,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “This is a way that we can move forward and survive and prosper with an ever-growing traffic load that we’re going to have to live with. I think the roundabouts (are) a solid solution.”
Most of the nearly dozen speakers at the meeting agreed.
“I’m in support of the roundabouts,” longtime resident Ann Dempsey said. “I think they’re a good idea. I have since the ’70s.”
Planning Director Kathy Garcia said there were a number of concerns about the functionality and safety of roundabouts and the potential of overflow traffic in the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Camino del Mar, the main thoroughfare through the downtown area, was designed to accommodate around 15,500 cars a day. It currently carries approximately 18,700 vehicles on a typical day. That number increases to about 23,100 during the summer, San Diego County Fair and Del Mar horse races.
Studies indicate replacing the stop signs with traffic signals could increase the carrying capacity to 30,000 more cars a day.
“It is true that if we kept the four lanes and we replaced our stop signs with signals we could carry additional traffic,” Garcia said, adding that it would not increase the capacity for parking, pedestrians or bicycles.
“We would be giving all our priority to the automobile traffic,” she said.
Council members agree signalized intersections are not an option. “That defeats the purpose or the desire to become a pedestrian-oriented city,” Mark Filanc said.
While some residents expressed a desire to leave things as they are, Garcia said the environmental impact report shows maintaining the existing conditions would have “significant unmitigated impacts.”
It also isn’t addressing the traffic problem.
“One thing we know for sure is the existing plan doesn’t work,” Mayor Carl Hilliard said.
Studies show reducing Camino del Mar to two lanes and replacing the existing stop signs with roundabouts could increase the carrying capacity to 26,000 cars a day.
But some residents who responded to the draft EIR were skeptical about those estimates.
“Traffic flow cannot possibly be adequate as proposed, but even if it were and the expected increase of overflow traffic to neighborhood streets did not occur – it is implausible that pedestrian crossing of Camino del Mar will be safe and unlikely that it will not severely disrupt traffic flow,” Don Ellis wrote.
Studies also indicate roundabouts are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, Garcia said.
Bikes will enter the roundabouts with the cars and travel at the same speed.
“Most cyclists appreciate the fact that they don’t have to pop out of their toe clips and stop at the stop sign like most of them don’t do… and they all should be doing,” she said.
In terms of mobility, council members also agreed to widen sidewalks on the south side of 15th Street, increase mitigation strategies to ease impacts during construction and take steps to ensure traffic doesn’t divert from Camino del Mar onto neighboring side streets.
For example, work will be done during the offseason and contractors will be rewarded for completing the job ahead of schedule.
With Camino del Mar able to handle more cars, there should be no reason for drivers to divert into residential neighborhoods but traffic will be monitored regularly, Garcia said, adding that $100,000 will be set aside for mitigation measures if problems arise.
As for parking, the specific plan includes a park-once strategy that encourages a shared plan between public and private entities that has been successful in the beach areas of Santa Monica.
The plan also calls for construction of a parking garage, likely on the City Hall site, that many say should be built sooner rather than later.
There were concerns about parked cars backing into a single lane of traffic, but Garcia said this won’t happen because the plan includes a 20-foot buffer for vehicles to back into before merging onto Camino del Mar.
The buffer is also adequate space to allow emergency vehicles to maneuver through traffic. There will be regular monitoring of parking throughout the area.
And with an estimated 125 workers parking on residential streets, Garcia said the specific plan will also introduce employee parking actions.
“The employee parking is an area that really needs to be managed, and it’s never been managed. It’s been brushed under the rug,” Filanc said. “We need to make our businesses comply with it but we also have to give them some tools so they can comply with it.”
The city plans to conduct a survey to get an idea of the overall response to the specific plan before it is placed on the November ballot. Results should be available by mid-July. While there is mixed reaction to some details of the specific plan, many are supportive of revitalization.
“I finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” commercial property owner Bob Angelo said. “I finally feel I’ll be able to develop my property after over 30 years.”
“No one, no one in this community can reasonably assert that they have not had an adequate and sufficient opportunity to consider the village specific plan,” resident Wayne Dernetz said, noting that of the 4,500 people who live in Del Mar, slightly less than half are active participants in community affairs.
“Clearly there has to be some willingness to compromise to reach common understanding of what the important priorities are and to address those priorities,” he said. “The village specific plan is just that. It is a plan. It is not a guarantee of how the plan will unfold. We know there’s some uncertainty. We have to accept the fact that there’s uncertainty. Uncertainty is built into civic life.”
Former Councilwoman Crystal Crawford said the specific plan will take the city “many steps in the right direction to solving our perennial traffic and parking problems.” She also said it is essential for “the long-term health of the community, which indeed is the revitalization of our commercial district.”
“We can’t continue to thrive as a community if we don’t have the revenues to do that,” she said.