New stop sign approved at crossing near Ashley Falls School

Jonathan Altschul crosses Ashley Falls Drive and Pearlman Way with daughters Juliette and Charlotte.
(Laurie Altschul)

The Carmel Valley Community Planning board approved a neighborhood effort to install a new stop sign at Ashley Falls Drive and Pearlman Way, a heavily trafficked intersection near Ashley Falls School.

Residents Laurie Altschul, Shelby Leuin, and Valerie Schornstein have been working for over a year and a half to get the stop sign at the crossing, located at the base of the pedestrian ramp that leads into the school, preschool and park. There is an existing crosswalk but no stop sign.

At the board’s March 23 meeting, their request gained support from the majority of the board, including the newly appointed board member Breda Nicolas.

“For me, it is the easiest decision. There are crosswalks there for the kids and the fact that there is not a stop sign is shocking to me,” said board member Michelle Strauss. “We have a real problem in our area with speeding…Since we are not able to necessarily change that I think we need to do things like put in stop signs, especially in front of schools.

“Keeping our kids walking and biking should be paramount. We want them to walk to and from school and it’s become so scary for parents.”

Residents have voiced concerns about frequent pedestrian and vehicle conflicts at this intersection going back many years. In 2015. the board did not support a speed limit change for Ashley Falls Drive and instead encouraged the need for a stop sign at that intersection.

In 2022, Altschul worked with the city to undertake two traffic studies at the intersection, both of which did not find the need for a stop sign. Altschul believes that both studies were flawed as both were performed at times of reduced traffic flow. One was done from 2-4 p.m. on a day when school was out early at 12:30 p.m.; the other was completed on a Friday when morning traffic totals trend lower due to factors like telework.

The studies also didn’t account for all the accidents at the intersection in the past three years, Leuin said. She shared photographic proof of at least two accidents: one in December 2021 when the school crossing sign was knocked down and remained down on the sidewalk for several weeks, and one more recently in February when debris from an accident that was scattered on the street included a Toyota emblem.

As the city’s traffic study did not support a stop sign, the residents sought the alternative process through the planning board.

“Ultimately it’s just about keeping the community and our children safe,” said Schornstein, the PTA president at Ashley Falls whose three children have all walked to that school. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Leuin, a physician at Rady Children’s Hospital, said she has a colleague that refuses to let her children walk by themselves to school anymore. “We are the ones who see the sequelae of trauma and how it effects children when they come to our hospital,” Leuin said. “We don’t want to wait to see that happen at this intersection.”

To build community support for the stop sign, the group distributed a survey via a flyer with a QR code throughout the Ashley Falls neighborhood and on NextDoor. Of the 194 responses received, 94% said they would support the addition of a stop sign.

The survey included a place for comments and many shared stories about close calls they experienced and past safety requests to the city: “Please do not wait for a fatality before a stop sign is placed at this intersection,” one resident wrote. The stop sign also received backing from Del Mar Union School District Superintendent Holly McClurg and Karly Pecorella, the school principal.

“Please don’t let Ashley Falls Drive and Pealrman wait any longer, we’ve waited a long time,” Altschul said.

Planning board Vice Chair Barry Schultz has been historically opposed to the piecemeal approach of handling traffic issues throughout the community—on the agenda that night there was also a proposed traffic signal at Carmel Country Road and Derrydown Way. He again referenced the board’s 2014 livability report, a comprehensive plan to improve traffic-related mobility, safety and quality of life issues in Carmel Valley neighborhoods that they cannot get the city to move on, despite having set aside $1 million of its developer impact fees to hire a consultant to explore and develop potential solutions.

In his comments, Schultz said he did not believe the Ashley Falls stop sign would be effective but said he would support it because the neighbors want it. He urged the residents to be mindful that it’s the parents and the community who creates the traffic and speeding issues: “We have to take individual responsibility to solve these problems,” Schultz said.

Schornstein said her commitment back to the board would be to advise parents to be more careful and help spread the message to neighbors to take better ownership of their community streets.

Strauss noted that this issue exists beyond just Ashley Falls School—she suggested that the board convene a roundtable discussion with representatives from the city and all of the local school districts to talk about issues regarding schools and safety.