Planning board rejects proposed El Camino Real stoplight

A curb cut will be required for a new traffic signal on El Camino Real at the entrance to Torrey View.
(Karen Billing)

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board has come out strongly opposed to the newly proposed double-lane traffic signal on El Camino Real at the entrance for Torrey View, a new life-sciences complex currently under construction. The board voted to oppose the proposed signal at its Aug. 15 meeting, believing that it is “dangerous, not only for the many residents living nearby, but for bicyclists and motorists passing through the community.”

The Torrey View project, set to be completed by the end of the year, includes three four-to-five-story buildings, an underground parking garage and a tenant-serving clubhouse.

There are three entrances to the Breakthrough Properties complex and the plan is for the proposed traffic signal to create a median opening in front of the main entrance. The city has been reviewing the plans since August 2021—the new light also includes the installation of a crosswalk on the north side of El Camino Real.

“The main reason that we’ve requested to work with the city on a traffic signal for this site is because of the access for traffic coming from the south,” said Sarah Williams, a representative for Breakthrough Properties.

In the existing conditions, to access the site from the south drivers would make a left from Carmel Mountain Road onto El Camino Real, go down to where the Del Mar Union School District offices are located and make an unprotected u-turn at the curb cut. Alternatively, they could make an illegal u-turn or pass over El Camino Real and make a u-turn in front of the residential communities of Greenbriar, Monte Clare and Triology on Carmel Creek Road.

“We are trying to avoid having these encroachments by having a traffic signal,” Williams said.

Williams said their initial proposal for a single-lane traffic signal didn’t account for storage, as the planning board pointed out with their opposition last September.

After the board’s comments, Breakthrough conducted an updated traffic study in October. At peak hour volumes, there will be an estimated 567 cars accessing the site in the morning and 496 cars departing in the evening. They estimate that 50% of will be coming from I-5 South and 30% from I-5 North.

The Torrey View development.
(Karen Billing)

Based on the traffic volumes, they have now proposed the dual turn pocket to allow cars to turn left without backing up traffic, with room for 20 cars to stack. There will be dual lanes within the project going into the parking garage for ease of flow off El Camino Real.

If stopped at the driveway signal, the anticipated delay is 31.2 seconds in the morning and 22.2 seconds in the afternoon, Williams said.

Williams said the study found that surrounding intersections would have similar acceptable levels of service as they would without the project. With the signal installation, Breakthrough will also re-stripe and repave the entire area of El Camino Real; there will also be seven-foot bike lanes on both sides of the street.

“We’ve done quite a bit more research since we met last time to try and make it a more workable solution for the community and also to explain some of the rationale behind why we think it’s a good option for public safety for access to the site,” Williams said.

The majority of the planning board, which was opposed to the signal before, was doubly opposed to a dual turn signal as they believe it will have an “unacceptable” impact on residents.

“This whole building complex is the worst thing that’s ever happened to Torrey Hills. And now to put this double turn lane, it is not good for Torrey Hills,” said Chair Kathryn Burton. “I’ve lived here for 25 years, I’ve never seen anybody do an illegal u-turn. It’s possible that someone did while I wasn’t watching, however, I don’t think that is something to rely on to try to justify this turn signal there. It’s a grand entrance for Breakthrough.”

The board has recommended that alternatives be explored, such as a signalized turn further down the road (such as the entrances to the San Raphael community or the Del Mar school district offices) or keeping the landscaped median as is and requiring only right-in and right-out turns for Torrey View tenants.

Board member Darren Gretler said he would like the city to consider the accident history of the El Camino Real-Carmel Mountain Road intersection, where eight lanes converge with six. Living nearby he said he constantly hears tires screeching and sometimes the crunch of vehicles—he questions the logic of adding a signal and double turn lane so close to the triple turn lane at the intersection.

Gretler also noted that taking out the median with its mature landscaping should also trigger California Environmental Quality Act review as the encroachment will cause a visual impact that “exacerbates the bulk and scale of the project which is already beyond what should be allowed in the community.”

Like the entire Torrey View project, the traffic signal is only a ministerial review at the city, so the advisory planning board doesn’t really have a say in what happens next. What they hope is for their San Diego City Council representative Joe LaCava to help on the issue, last week extending an invitation for him to visit the site.

“What we need is a council member to stand up for us right now,” said Gretler. “The city is backed into a corner at this point because of the design that they allowed the project to move forward with. We need someone with the authority and the ability to do something for us here.”