Many residents living east of Interstate 5 use golf carts as a handy way to get to the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club, taking children to school or a quick trip to the grocery store.
The practice is actually illegal under state traffic laws, much to the surprise of the golfing community and city officials.
The city is working quickly to ensure most residents can continue driving their golf carts to the golf course. About 60 residents packed City Hall to hear the proposed solution at a public workshop Oct. 23.
"We're trying to establish a right you thought you had, that the city didn't even know was not permitted," said City Manager David Ott.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department alerted Ott earlier this year that most golf carts are not street legal because they lack many safety features such as seat belts, bumpers, windshields and wipers.
"We have to so something about it," Ott said. "Otherwise the city, the community, you all, are liable."
Law on the books
While state law prohibits non-street-legal vehicles from driving on the roads, it does allow local jurisdictions to approve their use in certain areas. Golf carts can be permitted on streets that are within one mile of a golf course, marked 25 miles per hour and can cross higher-speed streets safely.
City staff identified safe routes for about 95 percent of east-side residents to access the golf course.
This will require lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on Santa Helena, Sun Valley and Highland Drive, between San Andres and San Lucas Drive.
It also means coordinating with the country club and some homeowners associations to open up access points onto the course.
Golf carts will be prohibited on Lomas Santa Fe Drive, San Andres and Highland, north of San Lucas Drive (except for the existing golf cart crossing at Via la Senda). These streets are considered too dangerous for smaller golf carts to share the road with faster, larger vehicles on steep roads.
Unfortunately, this means some residents will be cutoff, including those living east of San Andres in the Las Vistas gated community.
Residents at the workshop suggested additional access points and safety features, but generally were receptive to the proposed plan.
"The city has done everything it can safely do," said Tom Boardman.
He applauded the city for its efforts to work with the community because the alternative would not only be inconvenient, but disastrous to property values.
"You're going to tell somebody moving to a golfing community 'by the way, you can't drive your golf cart'?" Boardman said. "That would have had a huge negative impact."
Ott expects to present the golf cart ordinance to the city council in November.
City seeks solutions
The city will continue to investigate solutions to provide access to more people, including traffic calming devices that would allow golf carts on Highland Drive beyond San Lucas Drive. This will take more time and would be proposed in a separate ordinance, Ott said.
If golf carts are legalized, drivers must get a permit from the city after proving they have a valid driver's license and insurance. The annual permit fee will likely be $20, Ott said.
The fee does not apply to golf carts only driven on the golf course, street-legal golf carts or electric vehicles.
For now, residents need not worry about changing their golf cart driving habits just yet. Sheriff Deputy Steve Magwood said sheriffs would not be ticketing golf cart drivers while the issue is sorted out over the next several months.
"We're not interested in giving tickets to people on golf carts," Magwood said.