DEL MAR — A city-sponsored open house to provide details on an improvement project in the north end of Del Mar turned into more of a gripe session, with attendees often talking over each other, primarily in opposition of a proposed roundabout at Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.
Many of the 30 or so people in attendance accused the city of rushing the project, not properly notifying nearby residents and kowtowing to developers of a proposed multifamily housing complex on the southwest corner of the intersection.
Former Mayor Jan McMillan restored some decorum when she asked attendees to be respectful so she could hear details about the entire project, which also includes sidewalks, bike lanes, retaining walls and other roadway improvements.
The city has been working all year on a comprehensive sidewalk, street and drainage plan that is being implemented in phases.
At their May 19 meeting, council members discussed adding the roundabout, which is backed by the Traffic Parking Advisory Committee, to segment two of the project, at a cost of about $1 million.
The city is using bonds issued by the San Diego Association of Governments to fund construction and money it receives annually in TransNet funds — about $200,000 — to pay the debt.
At the May meeting, resident Tom McGreal said he has concerns about the traffic-calming device, while Bill Michalsky said he supports the idea.
At the Oct. 6 meeting, council members approved a design proposal and project schedule for the project.
According to that staff report “the design proposal will be modified to address any issues that are discovered” during a planned public outreach program that includes the open house and neighborhood discussions similar to those that took place for the Beach Colony phase of the sidewalk project.
Staff expects the design to be finalized in November “and suitable for public bidding in December.” Council could be presented with a recommendation for the award contract in January, with construction complete by Memorial Day.
Property owners adjacent to the site who would be directly impacted — meaning physical changes to their driveways, mailboxes, etc. would likely occur — were sent letters in August describing the project and seeking input.
City Manager Scott Huth said most of the comments received from that mailing were positive and focused mainly on the type of materials that will be used for the sidewalks.
Residents who live on San Dieguito Drive were upset, saying the first notification they received was the announcement about the open house.
Public Works Director Eric Minicilli said the open house was step two in the outreach process. It was the first notification sent to those residents and many others in the area.
No one denies there are traffic and speeding issues in the area, especially during the annual San Diego County Fair and thoroughbred horse racing season. Huth said the city has three options to address the problems.
He said a four-way stop sign was ruled out because it won’t get the volume of cars through the area during peak times. A traffic signal is a “reasonable option,” he said, but it won’t slow traffic.
Using as an example the traffic light at the other end of town, at Camino del Mar and Del Mar Heights Road, Huth said cars stop at a red light but speed through the intersection when the light is green.
Michalsky said the lagoon committee expressed concerns about negative impacts from a lighted intersection on the surrounding wetlands area.
Arnold Wiesel, who lives about 300 feet from the project area, accused the city of basing its decision to install a roundabout on one traffic study.
Huth said that isn’t true. He said the city used information from an analysis done by a consultant during peak times on a Wednesday in August 2014 that concludes a roundabout would improve the level of service from a B and C in the morning and evening, respectively, to an A.
But Huth said the city also constantly collects and evaluates traffic data and used it to help determine that a roundabout at that intersection could handle the volume of cars that go through the area.
He said gridlock “has more to do with traffic control from the fairgrounds than what’s going on at that intersection.”
Traffic studies conducted by the Del Mar Fairgrounds for a proposed expansion and by the owner of the vacant lot on the southwest corner of the intersection indicate the need for improvements.
Huth said if and when the fairgrounds plan and any development on the vacant lot are completed, both have agreed to pay a portion of any improvements made.
“We have a system in place for them to pay their fair share,” Huth said.
Wiesel also said the city was installing a roundabout to accommodate Watermark, a multifamily housing complex that has been introduced to the public, but for which no permits have been submitted.
Huth called the accusation “nonsense.”
Many residents were also concerned that because council adopted a design proposal and schedule, the project is inevitable.
“This is not a done deal,” Minicilli said. Asked how he can guarantee that, Minicilli added, “I’m building it.”
He said his department is waiting for feedback from residents and even with the current schedule, “there’s plenty of time to make changes.”
“This project is not at the point of no return,” he said.
Councilwoman Sherryl Parks suggested installing a temporary roundabout, a recommendation Huth said is viable. However, that would mean a longer timeline to complete the project.
“Better to do it right and have the citizens like it,” Parks said.
Susan Clark, who has lived on San Dieguito Drive for about 20 years, said she would prefer a signal at the intersection. She doubted motorists already in the circle would allow incoming cars to enter.
Not everyone at the open house opposed the roundabout.
“I think it will make sense,” resident Bud Emerson said. “This is not going to solve the whole problem but it will provide some relief.
“This is a small slice of the community,” Emerson said. “When you have people shouting over other people, you don’t get rational views.
“People fear change,” he added. “A roundabout is a piece of concrete. You can always unbuild it. I think this is a worthy experiment.”
“What people don’t realize is that roundabouts do not stop traffic,” Huth said.
“They slow traffic and keep it moving continuously,” he added. “You have one lane in both directions so it will probably increase the ability of the roadway to function better.”