ENCINITAS — City Council approved the creation of an access point to the Encinitas Community Park and a walking path along a small, privately maintained road on the park’s southern edge amid outcry from the neighbors along the street.
The council’s 4-1 vote paves the way for the council to create a pedestrian gate in the park’s southern wall and a pathway along Starlight Drive, which is currently a gravel-laden street on which six homes are located. Councilman Mark Muir voted against the proposal.
City engineering officials said it will cost the city $66,000 to take out the section of the 6-foot-tall concrete wall, install the gate and create a 6-foot-wide decomposed granite walking path along the east side of Starlight Drive to Warwick Avenue.
While the road is private, the city technically has rights to the road and can invoke them through what is known as an irrevocable offer of dedication. The City Council voted to invoke it for only the section of the road where the path would be, but the council directed staff to talk to the community to see if it wanted the city to take over the entire street.
Supporters of the project argued that the gate and path would provide children a safe and direct link between Ada Harris and Cardiff elementary schools through the park that bypassed any major streets.
“I think this project will profoundly improve biking and walking in this part of Cardiff,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said. “There is a changing perspective about what it is we need to do to make our streets safer and more oriented toward biking and walking. For $66,000, it’s actually a bargain.”
Residents along Starlight Drive and several adjacent streets cried foul over the proposal, which they said would create a hazardous situation along the streets, and went against a verbal commitment from a previous City Council to not create an access point to the park along the southern edge.
“This council basically breached its commitment to the neighborhood,” said Greg Hagen, an attorney who lives along Starlight Drive. “We are incredibly disappointed by how this was handled by the city.”
Hagen said that he discussed the project with the city and Cardiff School District several months ago, and Cardiff school officials told him the project was being shelved due to neighbors’ concerns about the safety.
Last week, however, he received a notice from the city about the project and immediately emailed city and school district officials. School officials, he said, were unaware the council had moved forward with the plans.
Hagen was one of eight speakers who urged the council not to put in the access point. They cited safety concerns at the intersection of Starlight Drive and Warwick Avenue, a narrow east-west street that has no sidewalks and a steep grade on the western edge. They also said they worry about park visitors searching for parking on Starlight Drive, and after finding none, driving onto the driveways and backing out onto the street, which would imperil pedestrians.
They also questioned whether the city could agree to only take control of a segment of the road and not the entire road.
But the residents repeatedly discussed the verbal agreement between the council at the time the park was approved and the neighbors, who argued vociferously against a southern pedestrian access. City staff said they were unable to find record of the agreement, but residents pushed back that the fact there was no access was proof of the verbal arrangement.
City councils are not bound by previous council decisions or resolutions, but the residents said that they took the city at its word, and felt betrayed.
“The council, Jim Stocks and James Bond and the others, assured us there would be no southern access in part due to the safety concerns,” Hagen told the council.
Muir said this was the primary reason he opposed the proposal.
“I also value an agreement,” Muir said. “I believe during that time, a lot of discussions … took place, and I think we made an agreement with the people there. For me to change that would be for a safety issue, and I don’t see any safety issue. In fact, I see the contrary.”
The balance of the council and six other speakers disagreed.
Roberta Walker, a Cardiff resident, said the council should look beyond the people in the room and consider single-parent families whose children have to walk to school alone at times.
Leslie Tuchman, who has three children in Cardiff schools, said that kids and parents would walk if there were safer routes.
“We would walk and bike much more frequently if we felt there was a safer route,” Tuchman said. “And I feel like this is a safer route.”
Hagen said Oct. 12 that he and neighbors hadn’t decided if they would challenge the approval in the courts, which would be their only option.
“That has yet to be determined,” he said.