Neighbors sue the city after silence regarding gate into park

First, they unsuccessfully pleaded to the city council to not allow a path through their Cardiff neighborhood in October. Then, they agreed to come up with a compromise with the City of Encinitas. Now, the group of neighbors have sued the city after they felt their voices were not heard.

Residents of Starlight Drive argued at an Oct. 11 meeting that placing a $66,000, six-foot-wide gate at the end of the street, off Warwick Drive, as an access point to Encinitas Community Park would reduce privacy, safety and property values, as well as increase traffic, for the five homes along the privately-owned road.

However, the city council approved — with council member Mark Muir dissenting and 16 public speakers sharing their opinions on the issue — the gate touted as part of a safe walking route to school between Ada Harris and Cardiff elementary schools.

Council members instructed city staff to meet with the neighbors to discuss options, including paving the entire road, but six-year Starlight Drive resident Regan Schaar said no such meetings or attempts for a meeting have happened since the October approval. She said the residents hired an attorney to assist them in contacting the staff and city attorney's office, but the city would not return the lawyer's calls.

The five neighbors filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California on Jan. 8 after they received no response from the city for nearly three months, Schaar said.

"It was the same way that happened at the hearing," Schaar said. "They just railroaded over us and didn't have any plan of really talking to us. ... It's a huge waste of our money to file a lawsuit to make a city talk to us."

Starlight Drive — which has no sidewalks and currently dead-ends with a six-foot wall that separates the street from the park — has two irrevocable offers of dedication (IOD) that were made in the 1970s that would allow the city to take it over at any time to be dedicated as public right-of-way, should it be needed for public use.

But Schaar pointed to the IODs, shown in the lawsuit, which state the road could be used for a "public highway" between Warwick Drive and Santa Fe Drive. Over the last 30 years, more single-family homes were added and the proposed connection between the streets was never implemented.

"As a result, effectuation of the original intent of the IODs – establishment of a north-south roadway connection from Warwick Drive to Santa Fe Drive – is now physically and financially infeasible as a result of the full development of the area," the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit contends the project was not compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act, which the city said the project was exempt from. The city, for example, did not study how many people were expected to use the gate and proposed trail for access to the park and sports fields, according to the lawsuit.

Ron Ogata, who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1980s, said in October he had heard neighbors came to an agreement with the city years ago that the area wouldn't be affected by traffic when the park was being considered. However, staff at the Oct. 11 meeting said there were no records to indicate a written agreement with neighbors or references to any agreement within the environmental impact report.

"I don't know if it was ever put into writing, but the park was designed with the big wall that's there," Schaar said. "Obviously, there was some kind of agreement, otherwise they would have tried to put gates into the park or some kind of access into the park."

Neighbors also formed no-park and scaled-back park committees to show they were not in favor of a park impacting the area, Ogata said.

Schaar argued she believed the area wasn't a true "safe route" to school since there are hills on Warwick and Starlight that would affect accessibility for the disabled. The hills would also create blindspots for drivers who wouldn't see the children walking or biking by, she said.

She added she has also encountered homeless people in the park, which she believes could create a dangerous situation for children.

She argued the pathway would also only save about two to four minutes for children traveling between the two schools.

"It's all been mislabeled and misconstrued into something that it's not," Schaar said. "We don't understand why because the city won't talk to us."

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said Jan. 15 she felt the gate is "a great community improvement because it gives residents an access point on the south side [of the park]." She would not provide further comment.

During an evaluation process, the city looked at several potential sites for the access gate, Blakespear said in an October interview. Access over Warwick Avenue to Mackinnon Avenue and a northerly terminus of Somerset Avenue to Encinitas Community Park were also considered before they were dismissed due to conflicts with the county on Mackinnon and "significant elevation change" on Somerset, according to a city staff report.

Starlight was the best option, staff concluded, because it was "relatively flat and the grade difference between Starlight Drive and the existing sidewalk on the park site is minimal."

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