RANCHO SANTA FE — The recent public hearing held by the Rancho Santa Fe Association was not for the purpose of approving three traffic circles locally.
It was for deciding whether to accept the final environmental impact report offered by the county and to get input from the membership.
And input they got. The Garden Club was packed with at least 150 people and about 50 people filled out speaker cards giving them the opportunity to voice their opinions to the Association. The majority of speakers were against the traffic circles.
In the end the Association voted not to object to the final certification of the EIR by the county board of supervisors. It also voted to recommend the diameter of the La Valle Plateada/Montevideo and Via de la Valle roundabouts be reduced by a minimum of 10 feet to minimize impacts on the adjacent property. Also the Association decided to convene a volunteer committee to study the possibility of signalization.
The traffic circles are planned for the intersections of Del Dios and El Camino Del Norte; Paseo Delicias and El Montevideo-La Valle Plateada; and Paseo Delicias and Via de la Valle.
In many cases the lots of property owners will be cut either in the front or side. Some driveways will be relocated and trees will be removed. The additional right-of-way required by the county could result in taking it through eminent domain.
Don MacNeil an elder at the Village Church told the Association the project would have a negative impact on the community, the church and its preschool, which is located at the intersection of Paseo Delicias and Via de la Valle.
He said that not only would the project endanger the children who attend the preschool, but two of the driveways would have to be moved and 23 of their parking spaces would be lost.
He said church officials are concerned about the safety of its preschoolers during the 18-month construction period because impatient drivers already cut though their parking lot to make time, and it could get worse.
Resident Patricia Simmons who lives at the intersection of Paseo Delicias and La Valle Plateada, said the project would change the Covenant substantially.
“Instead of a charming community it will become a drive through and short cut for people to get where they are going,” she said.
She said she would lose about 30 feet along side her property and 60 to 70 feet on the corner of her property and the new location for the bus stop will put it within feet of her swimming pool.
In the process her privacy screen of numerous 200-year-old trees will be removed, she said.
“This is not right! This is not fair,” she said. “This is not how our community is supposed to look.”
Not everyone at the meeting was against the project.
Martin Wilson said that traffic circles work well all over the world and could work in Rancho Santa Fe.
“The roundabouts do more than traffic signals and could define the Covenant,” he said.
“They would let people know they are in some place special,” Wilson said.
Marie Addario agreed that the traffic circles are a good idea.
“I believe that traffic circles with the RSF art jury landscaping would be a much better solution than traffic lights,” she said.
Addario said studies show that roundabouts have 40 percent fewer vehicle collisions, 80 percent fewer injuries and 90 percent fewer serious injuries and fatalities when compared to the intersections they replaced.
“What’s more, the most serious accidents are the right-angle, left-turn or head-on collisions that can be severe because vehicles may be moving fast and collide at high angles of impact,” she said.
But others are not convinced.
Linda Hahn, who lives along Paseo Delicias, said it was hard enough now to back out of a driveway during peak traffic hours, much less if traffic circles kept traffic moving.
Longtime resident Lisa Bartlett said, “We don’t have a solution or we wouldn’t be here.” She said the roundabouts are the lesser of the evils.
While the idea of “doing nothing,” hoping the whole idea would die a slow bureaucratic death, was a popular idea among the residents, in the long run, is not a good one.
“If we don’t do anything we lose control and may have a solution imposed on us,” said Ivan Holler, Covenanat administrator.
He said all it would take would be a complaint by a citizen to set the whole process in motion again, which could go in a direction that could leave the Association without a seat at the table.
“We have to vote so our options stay on the table,” said Director Larry Spitcaufsky.
“We need to stay engaged with the county and have as much control of the outcome every step of the way,” said Association Vice President Anne Feighner.
The final EIR will consider the additional comments and then finally be submitted to the board of supervisors who will certify it and put it on the county capital improvement project list and be eligible to compete for further funding.
The actual construction is still years away.
The idea of having traffic circles in the Covenant began more than 12 years ago in an effort to reduce the cut-through traffic.
By 2000 the traffic increased to the point where the Association began looking for solutions. Solutions from installing traffic lights to moveable barricades were considered. In 2002, the county began considering traffic circles.
After years to work and planning, four Covenant-wide meetings, officials decided to take the roundabout route.
The three circles are designed to work as a system by requiring vehicles to slow, but not stop as they move through the intersections. Each will be between 111 to 114 feet in diameter. Each will have pedestrian and equestrian crosswalks. The county will bear the cost of construction, but the Association will be responsible for the landscaping.
Resident Chuck Badger whose family has lived in the Covenant since 1929 urged the board to drag their feet as long as possible, hoping that the project would die on its own.
“Don’t vote for the commuter. Vote for the community,” he said.