2013 in Carmel Valley: A year in review

By Karen Billing

Here’s a look at some of the major stories to hit Carmel Valley in 2013:

Principal switches

In 2013, Carmel Valley schools saw principal shake-ups in all three of its school districts as Solana Pacific, Sycamore Ridge, Sage Canyon, Torrey Hills, Torrey Pines High and Canyon Crest Academy all got new faces in the principal’s office.

While one, Solana Pacific’s Brian McBride, retired, the rest moved on to new positions or for personal reasons: Sycamore’s Emily Morris was replaced by Peg LaRose from Sage Canyon; Vivian Firestone took LaRose’s place at Sage; Torrey Hills’ Barbara Boone was replaced by Monica Sorenson; and Elisa Fregosa took the reins from McBride, who was the founding principal at Solana Pacific. At the high school level, Brett Killeen left after nine years at Torrey Pines, replaced by Canyon Crest Academy’s founding principal David Jaffe. Canyon Crest Academy’s Brian Kohn left for Northern California to be replaced by Karl Mueller.

Additionally, at the end of December it was announced that principal Jerry Jones would also be leaving Solana Highlands to open the new Solana Ranch School in Pacific Highlands Ranch in 2014, meaning one more principal needed to be found to lead a Carmel Valley school.

Mixed uses

Carmel Valley heard a lot about mixed use in 2013 as three projects went through review processes with the planning board. Buzz words emerged such as: walkability, village, Main Street, Trader Joe’s, “strings of pearls” and level of service (LOS).

Overflow crowds turned out to planning board meetings held in local school auditoriums to hear about everything from the very technical details of the One Paseo draft environmental impact report to just wanting to have a say on the project — some feel the project would ruin Carmel Valley, others feel Carmel Valley needs the project.

In January, more than 400 people showed up at Canyon Crest Academy for a rehashing of One Paseo — including former Mayor Bob Filner, who would resign in August after several allegations from multiple women of sexual harassment.

In March, more than 200 people attended a meeting where Kilroy unveiled more than $5 million in extra community benefits, including a tree-lined boulevard along Del Mar Heights, a village walk along El Camino Real with a series of public plazas and spaces (the “pearls”), making missing connections to trails and contributing toward a proposed new soccer field at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center.

Some found the enhancements fantastic, others compared them to “lipstick on a pig.”

In October, the city re-circulated the One Paseo environmental impact report (EIR) with two additional scaled back alternatives of the proposed project, but Kilroy still believes that the reduced Main Street alternative will best meet the project’s goals and objectives.

While Trader Joe’s is no longer a part of One Paseo, developers Coast Income Properties were able to score the much-requested Trader Joe’s as its first signed tenant for the Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center.

The Pacific Highlands Ranch Village Center project was unanimously given recommended approval by the CV planning board in February. The mixed use site will feature 155,000 square feet of retail with a mix of shops and restaurants, a unique plaza gathering space, large green area and 325 residential units.

And then there was Merge, a new mixed-use center being planned for the Carmel Country Highlands area. Developer Gary Levitt looked to create a mixed-use community hub with unique, modern architecture but that didn’t sit well with surrounding neighbors who felt it should blend more with the community character.

Levitt worked with neighbors to change the project from its residential flats above retail and a central green to no central green space, just 22 townhomes and 31,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor and offices above — with less modern but still unique architecture.

Trail opens

The Del Mar Horsepark portion of the San Dieguito River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail opened on Jan. 12, 2013, completing a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of trail that begins at Jimmy Durante Boulevard. The new half-mile of trail is just one part of the planned 55-mile Coast to Crest trail from Del Mar to Julian and is open to walkers, bikers and equestrians.

“We’ve been working on it for a while and we were finally able to make the connection between the lagoon trail and this portion,” said Dante Lee, a San Dieguito River Park ranger. “It’s a fantastic view of the river and when the tide comes in you can see a lot of birds and ducks. This is one of the most interesting views of the river that you get on this side.”

Mile markers are installed at every half mile and there are benches to catch your breath. A good portion of the trail is on a fun boardwalk and on your way you can see everything from horses to lagoon life to golfers hitting on the range.

The trail even has an app! It can be downloaded at and provides information on wildlife and plants, as well as trail maps.

School news

San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Ken Noah retired in June. He had served the district for four-and-a-half years and one of his last accomplishments was helping to get Prop AA pushed through, providing funding for a multitude of projects in the district from simple heating and air conditioning upgrades at Torrey Pines High to a complete rebuild of Earl Warren Middle School, scheduled to be complete in 2016. The first major Prop AA project, Canyon Crest Academy’s new track and athletic field, was completed in September.

To replace Noah as superintendent, the district appointed Rick Schmitt in May.

A rash of computer lab robberies plagued many Del Mar Union and Solana Beach District schools over the summer and the districts stepped up security measures.

Solana Beach also got started on the construction of its new school, Solana Ranch, extended its kindergarten day in the district’s Global Education program for next year, promoted Julie Norby from principal at Solana Santa Fe to its director of instructional services, and changed the grade configurations at Carmel Creek and Solana Highlands to transitional kindergarten through third grade and Solana Pacific to grades 4-6 starting in fall 2014.

Del Mar Union School District started work on drafting its new facilities master plan, came up with more than $2.5 million in cuts to deal with a budget deficit, including increasing class sizes, and hired two new district cabinet members: Jason Romero as the new assistant superintendent of human resources and Dinah Brown as the new coordinator of curriculum and instruction.

DMUSD also honored the memory of 16-year trustee Janet Lamborghini, “a champion for children,” who passed away on May 5 at the age of 73.

All districts prepped for the Common Core State Standards, which must be implemented next fall.

CV Library: The next chapter

The Carmel Valley Library celebrated its 20th anniversary in July with a fresh coat of exterior paint, made possible by donations to the Friends of the Carmel Valley Library from Del Mar Highlands Town Center and San Diego City Council President pro-tem Sherri Lightner, who contributed $26,000 from her Community Projects, Programs and Services budget.

The black streaks are now gone from the library, which is considered one of the best, most-loved libraries in San Diego. In 2012, the library’s circulation was 394,083, one of the highest circulations in the city other than the central library downtown.

“The fact that it is so well used is really a testament to what a great asset it is to the community,” said Marion Moss Hubbard, the city library system’s senior public information officer. “The city is really proud of that branch, it is one of our shining branches.”

Gonzales Canyon Neighborhood Park

In the early part of the year, Pacific Highlands Ranch residents set to work designing their long-awaited, much-delayed, fully-funded-since-2008 park. With only 5 acres off Pacific Highlands Ranch Parkway to use, the design committee looked not to waste space on a parking lot and focus on more park.

The plan includes a large community gathering space, designed as a bosque with picnic tables under a cluster of trees, a secondary shaded picnic table area, 10,000 square feet of tot lot space for both younger and older children, a comfort station, a sloped, grassy amphitheatre space, a half basketball court and maximized playing field space. A walking loop about a quarter mile long links to both the promenade and the urban amenity trail that surrounds the park.

Beth Fischer, Pardee Homes division president, said they are committed to delivering the park by December of 2014.

What’s new?

Kaiser Permanente opened its modern new medical offices on Carmel Creek Road, nearly eight years after purchasing the land. The 50,000-square-foot, two-story facility houses 20 primary care offices and 10 specialty care services, including cardiology, dermatology, radiology and neurology, with a full pharmacy, diagnostic lab on site, as well as Kaiser’s first comprehensive Women’s Center in Southern California.

Whole Foods Market opened in the renovated Flower Hill Promenade, as well as the hotly anticipated restaurants Sea and Smoke and Cucina Enoteca. IHOP’s lease expired at Del Mar Highlands Town Center and it was replaced by Snooze AM Eatery in July, long lines forming in the mornings for one of its big breakfasts. In July, Burlap re-opened as Searsucker, and Which Wich Superior Sandwiches and Unleashed by Petco opened up shop. City Kids Beach Kids left the Highlands after 20 years as its lease was not renewed.

A heartwarming homecoming

The Cathedral Catholic community rallied for the family of basketball coach Will Cunningham. Several members of his family were severely injured in a head-on collision caused by a drunk driver on March 17. The drunk driver was killed and Cunningham’s wife, Alisa, and three of his children — Taylor, Jayden and Logan — sustained major injuries. Taylor, 17, suffered the worst injuries, including a fractured pelvis, broken right hip, broken wrists and a brain injury that left her in a coma for 17 days. She spent 75 days in the hospital and, in September, her classmates voted her homecoming queen. The homecoming king beside her also beat incredible odds — king Ronan Nelson broke his neck and incurred spinal cord injuries in a rugby game in 2012.

Teenage hero

Trevor Brown didn’t think or hesitate, he just acted when he saw a stranger have a cardiac episode and stopped breathing at Del Mar Highlands Town Center on April 10. The 17-year-old Cathedral Catholic High senior performed CPR until paramedics arrived and said it just seemed “obvious” to spring into life-saving measures.

“It didn’t seem heroic to me, a situation just presented itself to me and I had to go help,” Trevor said. “It’s not hard to help people when you know what to do.”

Performing CPR was something that Trevor had just been trained to do a little over two weeks before at an Athletes Saving Athletes program at his school. He had even taken part in a CPR demonstration video.

Athletes Saving Athletes was created by Advocates for Injured Athletes, an organization co-founded by Beth Mallon and her son Tommy after Tommy suffered a life-threatening neck fracture in 2009 while playing lacrosse at Santa Fe Christian School.

“I just started sobbing when I heard, absolutely sobbing,” Mallon said of Trevor’s actions. “It’s coming up on the four-year anniversary of Tommy’s accident and to have the program actually bring a direct result, to know one of the athletes was able to recognize the situation and step up and intervene, that’s the whole purpose of the program. It shows it works.”

CV planning board rejects Via de la Valle widening plan

In September, the planning board took a stand against the proposed Via de la Valle widening in light of new concerns from Del Mar Horsepark users and business adjacent to the road that would be negatively impacted.

The plan, about 10 long years in the making, is to widen Via de la Valle from two to four lanes from San Andres to El Camino Real, keeping it as narrow as possible through the sensitive riverpark area.

The board has long questioned why the widening is necessary as the road doesn’t go anywhere to the east, stopping after the El Camino Real interchange and continuing as two lanes into Rancho Santa Fe. According to the city, the widening is needed to accommodate future traffic volumes and to address current problems as the volume is double than what it was built for.