Carmel Valley officials stunned by impediment to Pacific Highlands Ranch development

By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

Members of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board said they were “blindsided” by city staff last week when they were told that Pacific Highlands Ranch (PHR) would not be able to build past its 1,900 development units until SR-56 was widened.

The news especially came as a shock after the group worked with city staff for months last year to prepare Proposition C, which untied PHR’s development from the SR-56 and Interstate-5 interchange project. Proposition C passed with 70 percent of the vote, allowing PHR to work on getting the facilities it is lacking, such as parks, shopping, library, trails and recreation facilities.

“We wouldn’t be where we are now without the passage of Prop C,” said Frank January, a project manager for the facilities financing section in the city’s department of development services (DSD). “This is another issue that has come up right behind it.”

“Prop C removed one transportation issue, this is another one that has always been there,” said Tom Tomlinson, also a project manager in the same department.

Tomlinson said that the development restriction is in Pacific Highlands Ranch’s transportation financing plan. Development is capped at 1,900 units until SR-56 is widened from four to six lanes from the I-5 interchange to one mile east of Carmel Valley Road.

Prop C was a fix for Prop M, which imposed a restriction endorsed by surrounding community members in Carmel Valley to ensure that PHR was a self-sustaining community. When PHR appeared to stagnate under the restrictions, there was a call by the same Carmel Valley community to right the wrong through Prop C.

The SR-56 widening restriction is not a “politically-based threshold” like Prop M’s was, but instead is in place to mitigate the impacts of traffic, Tomlinson said.

Carmel Valley planning board vice chair Manjeet Ranu was working with city staff on a facilities phasing plan on the Prop C Working Group when the issue was brought to his attention. He and planning board chair Frisco White said it seems unacceptable that this was never brought up during the process of preparing Prop C and only brought up now at the 11th hour after a citywide vote.

The working group was scheduled to meet with DSD staff this week to discuss next steps.

It might be a possibility to look at the last traffic study and transportation phasing plan to see if there have been changes and if the restriction can be amended. Ranu said the mayor’s office would be looking into the matter.

“There’s more questions than answers right now,” Tomlinson said. “The Prop C Working Group is frustrated because they thought they got over the main hurdle and now they’ve found there’s another one we need to address.”