I attended the March 28 Carmel Valley planning board hearing on the traffic that One Paseo will generate if approved at its proposed size of 1.4 million square feet (which is five times the size of the Del Mar Highlands Town Center). Like many at the meeting, I was astonished by the rosy predictions offered by the city planners in response to the questions they were asked. They offered precise-sounding calculations to suggest that travel times would not be impacted much by this gargantuan project, or that they would be shortened. However, these figures were unrealistic and do not hold up under further scrutiny.
The planners contended that the impact of this oversized project can almost entirely be “mitigated” and that traffic may be even better with it than without it. Their arguments rested on two ideas: (1) lengthening “pockets” (the dedicated lanes that lead onto the 5, just west of High Bluff) will mitigate some of the congestion; and (2) adoption of the traffic-light-synchronization system used by the City of San Marcos will mitigate the rest.
Let us be clear: When the planners (and Kilroy) talk about “mitigation” by “lengthening pockets,” what they mean is ripping out the trees and landscaping that cushion houses in Alta Mar, East Bluff and other developments from Del Mar Heights Road and the 5. Longtime residents, who bought their homes under the existing rules, should not find themselves thrust onto the road because a developer wants to build a project that is vastly out of scale with the neighborhood. Mitigation is only needed because of the otherwise-massive traffic jams the project will bring. “Mitigation” should not be another way of saying “harming Carmel Valley residents.”
Second and more importantly, the planners’ characterizations of how well the traffic synchronization system works in San Marcos were divorced from reality (I know this only too well, having commuted to San Marcos from Carmel Valley for 13 years). One of the city planners maintained that, if this system is imported to Del Mar Heights Road by Kilroy, it will reduce traffic by 30 percent. She also stated that, as far as she knew, everyone in San Marcos loved this system. Yet under questioning from planning board Chair Frisco White, she conceded that she got her data from a website and that she had not been in touch with the City of San Marcos. In a follow-up email to the planning board after the meeting, after she finally contacted the City of San Marcos, she shrunk her assessment of how the system improved traffic down to “an average 10 percent improvement in travel time.” Yet even the idea of a 10 percent improvement is misleading, since the system only improves traffic at some off-peak times of day. It has actually become worse on some portions of San Marcos Boulevard at peak hours since the system was installed. The figures that the city planners offered at the planning board meeting were thus erroneous, based on faulty assumptions about San Marcos traffic.
In real life, San Marcos Boulevard is a nightmare at rush hour. Traffic backs up from Highway 78 onto San Marcos Boulevard, and drivers often wait several cycles at the same traffic light to get through. My co-workers and I all jam onto side streets to avoid San Marcos Boulevard. This is exactly what the planners insist will not happen in Carmel Valley, even though we have the same conditions (a neighboring freeway that will back up and mess with even the best-designed traffic-light synchronization). My neighbors in Alta Mar are particularly concerned with Kilroy’s proposal to have two left-turn lanes off of Del Mar Heights Road going north at High Bluff (thus dumping traffic in front of Solana Highlands Elementary School and onto our quiet residential streets, as residents who live farther east try to avoid the traffic mess generated by One Paseo). At the 3/28 meeting, the city planners insisted that no one will cut through our neighborhood because traffic will flow beautifully on Del Mar Heights Road. This defies logic, as well as the real-life experience in San Marcos.
One Paseo is just too enormous for our beautiful community. We do not need traffic jams on Del Mar Heights Road that are far worse than what we already have. We do not need commuters flooding residential streets and endangering schoolchildren’s safety. We do not need emergency response times lengthened, so that a developer can exceed its zoning limit. Residents need real facts we can rely on from our public servants. I heartily applaud the dedicated members of the planning board who asked thoughtful, skeptical questions at the March 28 meeting. I hope they will continue to listen to residents’ real and deep concerns about the project.