Encinitas considers borrowing money to complete Leucadia Streetscape

Encinitas considers borrowing money to complete Leucadia Streetscape
Debt payments currently comprise about 5 percent of the city’s operating expenses.

ENCINITAS — City officials want to complete a long-awaited overhaul of Coast Highway 101 in one phase, and are considering borrowing $30 million to do it.

The City Council voiced its unanimous support for the plan at a March 28 strategic planning session.

The project will dramatically transform the stretch of 101 into a bicycle-, pedestrian- and transit-friendly enclave complete with six roundabout intersections.

Streetscape plans call for six roundabouts between A Street and La Costa Avenue, bike lanes, pedestrian paths 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.

At least 80 of the nearly 400 mature trees — mostly eucalyptus — will be cut down as a result of the project, but officials said the addition of 1,000 trees more than makes up for it. Those trees, however, will be a mix of different variety and sizes, meaning the canopy will look different.

The City Council voted earlier in March to approve the project’s permits and environmental impact reports, but Mark Muir voted against the plans, which he said wouldn’t address vehicle traffic concerns along the stretch of road.

But the entire council, including Muir, voiced support for financing the project in one phase.

Previously, the city has considered breaking up the project, known as the Leucadia Streetscape, into three phases. Currently, the city has $10 million set aside for the first phase of the $29.96 million project.

But the council at the nearly five-hour planning session said that borrowing to do it now would allow the city to take advantage of historically low interest rates and would allow for the project to be completed in a much shorter time frame.

Borrowing the money would also allow the city to use the money it previously earmarked for the project, which came from the city’s capital improvement budget, for other projects. Mark Muir mentioned a proposed overhaul of Birmingham Drive, which includes the undergrounding of power lines and a roundabout at Newcastle Avenue.

Debt payments currently comprise about 5 percent of the city’s operating expenses. Over the years, the city has borrowed money to purchase Pacific View Elementary School, build a new lifeguard tower and acquire the land and build the $44 million Encinitas Community Park.

Assistant City Manager Mark Delin told the city at the workshop that it has the capacity to borrow for the project and stay below an 8 percent debt load, which is the recommended amount by local government experts.

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