Solana Beach proposes circulation changes, updates general plan for first time in 25 years
By Claire Harlin
Soon after Solana Beach became a city in 1986, its forefathers began writing the city’s general plan — a blueprint for the future that reflects the city’s values, vision and guiding principles — and the final draft adopted in 1992 was what has steered development ever since. But just as communities change, so should their state-mandated general plans, and Solana Beach officials are looking for community input as they perform their first-ever major overhaul of the document.
On Feb. 21 the City of Solana Beach will conduct a public workshop in which, for the first time, officials will present proposed concepts that reflect a shift from the vehicle-centric vision of 1986 to a focus on pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation. Included in the draft plan will be traffic calming measures such as lane reductions in some areas, as well as special designations such as “bicycle boulevards” and “pedestrian corridors” to provide safer non-vehicle travel.
“The general plan is the hierarchy; it’s the vision of where we want to be,” said Mayor Mike Nichols, adding that the goals outlined in the broader general plan are implemented more specifically through zoning.
“This is really residents’ opportunity to help shape the future of this community. It only happens every 20 years, and we highly encourage participation.”
City general plans include several elements and are generally updated every 15 to 20 years, except for the housing element, of which the state requires an update and certification every eight years. Solana Beach Deputy City Manager Wendé Protzman said the city is well on its way to housing element certification, as officials from the state Department of Housing and Community Development in December informed Solana Beach that it had met all necessary statutes in its housing element update, such as providing adequate regulations and land use designations to meet affordable housing standards.
Now, the city is focusing on Solana Beach’s land use and circulation, before it revisits its conservation, open space, noise and safety elements likely next year. Officials are also at liberty to add elements as they wish if the community deems necessary, such as the optional economic development element added in 1988 and a possible environmental sustainability element that has been discussed in the community.
“We’ve been talking about an environmental sustainability element, but really all the elements should be environmentally sustainable,” said Nichols, adding that elements can be combined (such as open space and conservation) or removed in order to work specific goals into all the elements. “We’ve also talked about a healthy lifestyle element, but it starts to get redundant the more you add.”
Building a multi-modal community
Even though Interstate 5 had been in place for two decades when Solana Beach became a city, nothing had yet transitioned on Highway 101, which was designed for passing through San Diego’s north coastal communities at high speeds. But when those communities became cities, there became a desire to create a city experience along the 101 and encourage drivers to stop and patronize rather than pass through.
“If you look at neighboring cities like Encinitas and Del Mar, everybody is reevaluating how to make a main street,” said city manager David Ott. “When the 101 was created it was the main thoroughfare, but now we want to discourage cut-through and encourage people to come to our city as a destination.”
For these reasons, the first phase of general plan redrafting — which includes circulation and land use and is estimated to wrap up next spring — will focus on slowing down traffic, reducing reliance on automobiles and enhancing pedestrian and bike circulation. This not only reflects the city’s change of environment since the general plan’s beginnings in 1986, but also a response to climate change and increasing number of regulatory influences regarding efforts like sustainability, alternative transportation and energy strategy.
Current construction on the 101 is in line with circulation plans for the rest of the city, Ott said.
“Twenty years ago there was a focus on the vehicle, and now there’s a focus on other forms of transit,” said Ott. “The thinking is that, instead of nice, big, wide streets that are dangerous to cross for pedestrians and bikes, we don’t have to try to get from point A to point B as fast as we can. Instead, we can offer a safer experience for bicyclists and pedestrians, and people want that kind of feeling.”
The city has proposed a “multi-modal boulevard” designation for streets such as Stevens Avenue and Lomas Santa Fe Drive that will include bike paths, parking and sidewalks. On Stevens, for example, Ott said there is not enough traffic to warrant four lanes, and proposed changes include a reduction to two lanes to provide a better balance between cars, pedestrians and bikes. He said traffic studies have already been done there and have shown the change will be supported.
Nichols referred to proposed circulation efforts as a “street makeover” and said that slowing traffic on Stevens Avenue is particularly important because that route connects local schools, a church, a library, and the Boys and Girls Club, from where kids walk almost daily to La Colonia Park, also located on Stevens.
Streets like Glencrest Drive, Santa Helena and South Sierra Avenue are proposed to be designated as “residential bicycle boulevards” in which bikes will share the road with vehicles by painting “sharrows” on the roadway.
When it comes to land use, city officials do not anticipate any zoning changes, but the city has proposed the implementation of a “visitor-serving” overlay zone that will require the City Council to address projects’ visitor-serving qualities to ensure they are in line with the general plan’s vision. Ott said that overlay zone is in line with the California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) goal of making beaches open and their communities visitor-friendly.
“[The CCC] felt there was a need for that, for coastal areas to be enhanced as a statewide regional resource,” said Ott. “We didn’t disagree.”
Nichols added, “It’s a win for us because we want people to come to Solana Beach.”
The Feb. 21 general plan workshop will take place at City Hall, located at 635 S. Highway 101, at 6 p.m.
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