SAN DIEGO — A proposed overhaul of Leucadia’s stretch of Coast Highway 101 received the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous blessing.
The commission’s board, which is hosting its monthly roving three-day meeting in downtown San Diego, rendered its decision after two hours of testimony on a project that has polarized the community for more than a decade.
The commission also denied an appeal of the city’s approval of the project filed by a group known as the Encinitas Residents Coalition.
Only one commissioner spoke following testimony, siding with the city and the state agency staff’s recommendation.
“I am convinced taken as a whole that this is an appropriate project for this road,” Commissioner Steve Padilla said. “It is a good repurposing of the use there and allows a more multi-modal approach to mobility.”
The decision elicited opposite reactions from the divided audience inside the Wyndham San Diego Bayside ballroom. Supporters applauded after the board’s vote, while opponents booed.
Streetscape plans call for six roundabouts between A Street and La Costa Avenue, bike lanes, pedestrian paths, wider sidewalks and crosswalks, bus facilities, on- and off-street parking, and the planting of more than 1,000 trees to restore the street’s famed tree canopy. City officials estimate the project will cost $30 million and are weighing options on how to pay it.
The commission’s approval included an amendment that will require the city to study travel times along any major coastal access roadway with significant congestion prior to modifying it. If the study shows that the project will impact coastal access, it “should be avoided,” according to the staff recommendation.
It also requires the city to submit an annual traffic monitoring plan for five years after the project’s completion to document the actual travel time in the project.
Additionally, the amended approval stipulates that any future roadway modifications include public access benefit enhancements that promote different transportation methods, including improved walking and biking access and increased public parking.
Finally, the commission is requiring the city to prohibit paid parking in the three parking bays proposed in the project, to provide three “ride share” drop-off and pickup points adjacent to three public beach access points and obtain an amendment from the commission in the future if any parking spaces are removed.
Inside the meeting, opponents of the projects waved yellow signs that said, “Stop Streetscape,” while supporters waved their hands in unison at speakers who spoke in favor of the project.
Supporters, which include a number of business owners, residents east of the railroad tracks and several prominent residents who live west of Coast Highway 101, believe the proposed reconfiguration of the main street will reclaim it for the community after years of being used by motorists to bypass traffic on nearby Interstate 5.
They also see it as a potential boon to the retail district, as the street will be beautified, traffic will slow down and attract more people to local businesses. After decades of wait, the project is long overdue, they said.
Opponents argued that the streetscape would choke traffic along Coast Highway and force motorists onto residential streets like Neptune and La Veta Avenue and will deter people from visiting the beach. They also said that the proposed changes are subject to Proposition A, the 2013 voter initiative that empowered the public to vote on major land use changes.
Leah Bissonette, speaking on behalf of the opponents, urged the commission to deny the project on those grounds as well as on social justice grounds, labeling the city’s supposed goal of “taking back the road for residents” as elitist.
“Gentrification should not come at the expense of people’s right to get to the beach,” Bissonette said. “What kind of privileged attitude is that?”
Donna Westbrook, who frequently opines on city projects at council meetings, called the project a “$30 million pork barrel project.”
But supporters — which included Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and council members Tony Kranz and Tasha Boerner Horvath — countered that the project would protect cyclists and pedestrians along a notoriously bike- and pedestrian-unfriendly stretch of road and would eliminate commuter traffic.
“This is a legacy project,” longtime Leucadia resident Charley Marvin said. “It is a wonderful amenity that I just think is long overdue. When people go to the beach, they don’t just go to the beach, they visit the amenities in that locale. We are going to create one of the best amenities possible for beachgoers with the streetscape.”
Opponents have an active lawsuit against the plan in state Superior Court that has not been resolved. They vowed to continue the fight.
The City Council must also approve the Coastal Commission’s amendments at a future meeting.