Concerns and support voiced for planned Via de la Valle widening project near Del Mar


By Karen Billing

The planned widening of Via de la Valle, which will enlarge the existing two-lane road to a four-lane road from San Andres to El Camino Real, is still a few years off but is inching closer to the final stretch.

At its Aug. 22 meeting, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board heard an update about the widening’s status and was asked to provide a motion of support for the project.

With a quorum of only nine of the group’s 16 members present, the planning board could not get a passing motion for the project. A motion in opposition to the widening failed 2-6, with one abstention, and a motion to support the plan with conditions failed 7-2 with Christian Clews and Steve Davison voting against it.

Clews expressed strong opposition to the widening for its impact on surrounding local businesses and the Del Mar Horsepark, as well as for its necessity as the four-lane road will end in a two-lane road after El Camino Real and the county has no intention to widen the road at that point as it leads into Rancho Santa Fe.

As the planning board serves solely in an advisory role to the city, it will send a letter recommending its project conditions, such as making sure the road has as little pavement as possible; that all enhanced bike lane opportunities be explored; and that aesthetics such as weathered corten steel be used on the guardrails.

In its current state, the city believes that Via de la Valle is inadequate to meet transportation demands.

The existing two-lane road is built for a maximum of 10,000 average daily trips (ADTs) but the current volume is almost double that at 17,000 ADTs, according to city traffic engineer Farah Mahzari. City traffic engineers are projecting 27,000 ADTs by 2030 and a four-lane road has a capacity for 30,000 so they are hoping that the widened Via de la Valle will be able to carry that capacity to and from the freeway.

According to Dale Greenhalgh of Black Mountain Ranch, LLC, the project will next go to the hearing officer in September and then is about two years away from the beginning of construction, with a year tagged for Coastal Commission approvals and a year on engineering.

The project goes back 10 years when it was originally submitted to the city. Concerns from the planning board and other agencies were always about keeping the road’s footprint as narrow as possible through the environmentally-sensitive corridor that includes the San Dieguito River Park.

As a result, although the road will be widened to two lanes in each direction, the road will be 60 feet wide, smaller than the city standard of 84 feet from curb to curb. There will also be a four-foot-wide median and a new six-foot-wide bike lane on both sides of the road.

“This is a massive improvement from what’s out there,” Greenhalgh said of the widened, safer bikeway.

The majority of the road will be widened on the south side due to the steep bluffs on the north side. On the south side there will also be a decomposed granite walking path in the parkway, a 10-foot area behind the curb, adjacent to the bike lane.

There will also be a new signal with the widening at Via del Canon.

There are several projects planned for this region, including undergrounding numerous utility lines along Via de la Valle, and the widening and realignment of El Camino Real, which includes a project alternative of a roundabout at the intersection of Via de la Valle.

Just a few years ago, the projects were working independently of each other and board member Anne Harvey said the “disjuncture” didn’t make any sense — the planning board urged all of the area projects to come together, which they now are.

“I’m thrilled to death that you’re all talking to each other and actually doing a complete project,” Harvey said.

At last week’s meeting, planning board member Christian Clews voiced “serious concerns” about the widening.

He said the area is home to the most horses per capita than any other in California and the widening could have an extremely negative impact on the showpark horses. He said that he felt the different trainers who lease space from the state-owned 22nd Agriculture District showpark are not aware of the widening.

Greenhalgh said they are working very closely with the Ag. District and that they haven’t heard opposition from the manager who represents the different trainers and owners.

“The Ag District is not happy about [the widening] but we’re continuing a dialogue with them,” Greenhalgh said. “They’re working with us because they know the road needs to be done.”

Clews also expressed concern about impacts to Via de la Valle-fronting businesses, such as Mary’s Tack and Feed and All Creatures Animal Hospital, saying it was too much encroachment on their properties. In addition, he lamented the loss of the large Torrey Pines trees along the road.

Clews said all of the impacts do not justify the widening because he contends traffic is only bad during the fair or soccer tournaments.

“Why build something that is a highway to a dirt road? Where is the logic in that?” Clews asked.

Greenhalgh said while buildings like those at Mary’s will be closer to the road, no actual land will be taken from them as the project remains within the confines of the existing right of way.

He said All Creatures, Mary’s and the proposed senior living facility Rancho Del Mar (proposed for the dirt parking lot adjacent to the San Diego Polo Club fields) have all been a part of project discussions.

Local Via de la Valle residents spoke in favor of the widening, arguing that it will improve traffic in the area that one resident called “a nightmare.”

“Traffic isn’t just bad during the fair or the Surf Cup, it’s bad all the time,” said Pat Chunyk, a resident of the Santa Fe Downs community located in between San Andres and El Camino Real on Via de la Valle.

Kevin Arner, another Santa Fe Downs resident, said he was disappointed to hear that the concerns of the horse people were more important than residents. He was in support of the widening plan.

“We like it, we love it,” Arner said. “It doesn’t have everything we wanted, but it has enough.”