ENCINITAS — A proposed redesign to the Leucadia Streetscape proffered by city staff and several key regional agencies was rejected by the City Council last week, as the council asked staff and the agencies to work toward a design more in line with the current plans.
The City Council voted 5-0 to reject the proposal, which would have eliminated the proposed parking pods on the Vulcan Avenue side of the rail corridor and replaced them with parallel parking, and required the city to include the Coastal Rail Trail along the west side of the corridor.
Under the current design, the city had proposed to build its own trail on the west side and have the much larger regional coastal trail along the east side of the tracks.
The San Diego Association of Governments and the North County Transit District said the redesign was necessary because of right-of-way constraints and drainage issues east of the rail tracks that they said would make building the Leucadia leg of the Coastal Rail Trail unfeasible.
The City Council, however, disagreed, arguing that the agencies could find a solution that solved the drainage issues and would keep the east side in play for the trail.
They voted to move forward with its streetscape plans and work with the NCTD develop temporary parking pods as the city, the transit district and the SANDAG work toward a different solution.
“The most important question is if we should take it or leave it,” Councilman Tony Kranz said of the proposal. “If it is, I would leave it. It is really critical that we continue on this aggressive path to getting project started and completed.”
Kranz and newly appointed Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said that a radical change to the project’s design would defuse the momentum the project has gained since a December truck-vs-bicycle accident that critically injured Cardiff 101 Main Street Association Executive Director Roberta Walker.
The accident galvanized the city and key stakeholders into advancing the plans, which include an overhaul of Coast Highway 101 between Leucadia Boulevard and La Costa Avenue, parking pods along the stretch and new safety features.
Hinze, who before her appointment was actively involved with the project as Leucadia 101 Main Street Association’s executive director, said the changes would force the city to return to the Coastal Commission, which could delay the project by months.
“We have spent 10 years of community input going back and forth building consensus between different groups,” Hinze said. “We are at a place where we have a project that’s shovel ready by the end of year and could be completed in three years.”
Residents who spoke at the meeting expressed shock and dismay by the turn of events, which they said undermined a decade of discussion and consensus.
“We have serious concerns about staff report,” current Leucadia 101 Executive Director Annika Walden said. “It seems as if it has been completely steamrolled by last minute, late hit requirements from both agencies.”
Brian Grover, who represents Bike Walk Encinitas and the serves on the city’s traffic and public safety commission, said the outside agencies were trying to bootstrap their projects — which are years away from fruition — to the city’s project, at the expense of the city’s forward momentum.
“It’s the tail wagging the dog,” Grover said. “The tail is our streetscape project … and the dog is coastal rail trail might happen in 2035, 2030, trying to catch up project we are doing, and we are being asked to bootstrap the two together? Why is that affecting the schedule for a project that we have been working on for so damn long?”
Both SANDAG and NCTD began working with city staff after the Coastal Commission granted approval in October. Their problem with the design stems from the apparent lack of space on the east side of the tracks for the rail trail, which they said would be 16 feet wide.
SANDAG said its proposed solution for the drainage issues — a retention basin — coupled with NCTD’s request for a 20.5-foot-wide buffer between the tracks and any proposed uses would constrict what could happen on the east side of the tracks.
Kranz argued that the rail trail didn’t have to be that wide — the Cardiff section of the rail trail is 12 feet wide at its widest, he pointed out. He and others pointed out that SANDAG could pursue underground pipes to solve the drainage issue, which would be costlier than a retention basin, but would allow the rail trail to go over the land.
Mayor Catherine Blakespear expressed the most concern about rejecting the compromise, which she worried would stall the long-awaited project, but ultimately voted with her fellow council members.
“I fear what happens from here is there is a period of no forward progress,” Blakespear said.
The council appointed Hinze and Kranz to a subcommittee that would work on the redesign with the local agencies.