By Karen Billing
Kilroy Realty has long seen its One Paseo mixed-use project as providing a heart for the Carmel Valley community, creating a village in the community core where the land has sat fallow for 30 years.
Opponents argue that Kilroy’s vision is not the community’s vision — that they bought into a different kind of community core when they moved to Carmel Valley, and they want the land use to stay true to the original goals and intent of the community plan.
Hearts and visions collided at the Aug. 28 Carmel Valley Community Planning Board meeting, where an overflow crowd turned out to debate the future of the last major slice of the community left to be developed. All 400 seats in Canyon Crest Academy’s theater were filled, and people spilled out into the aisles and crammed into standing-room only spots in the back.
Opponents wore the red buttons of the opposition group What Price Main Street, which read “No on THIS One Paseo,” while Kilroy supporters donned pale blue One Paseo stickers and held placards that read “Connect Carmel Valley.”
“It continues to makes me so proud to see everyone here, willing to spend the time to make sure your voice is heard,” said San Diego City Council President pro-tem Sherri Lightner, who sat in on the meeting. “It speaks to how important this is to your community.”
After six years, One Paseo appears to be heading into the home stretch. The planning board will deliberate and come up with a final recommendation on the project at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, at Canyon Crest Academy. Public testimony will not be taken at that meeting.
Kilroy expects to be before the San Diego City Council for a final decision by November on the 1.5-million-square-foot project that includes 198,500 square feet of retail, 484,000 square feet of commercial office and 608 multifamily residential units at El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights Road. The land is zoned and approved for 510,000 square feet of office buildings only.
Kilroy Senior Vice President Steve Scott said that they have worked “tirelessly” with city staff and have pounded the pavement and engaged the community to hear people’s likes and dislikes.
“The community engagement has significantly improved the project, which we are pleased and excited about,” Scott said. “We believe the project will fulfill the community vision by complementing the surrounding land use … we believe it will be a major unifying element for all of Carmel Valley.”
According to spokesperson Ken Farinksy, What Price Main Street has gathered strong community support in the last two weeks, adding 1,600 new members.
“We’re not against development. We’ve always supported an appropriate project on this site,” Farinksy said.
Bob Fuchs, another What Price Main Street mainstay, said that they have heard over and over that Kilroy has reduced the scale of its plans by 30 percent, but claims that the number is misleading.
“It’s not how much you’ve reduced it from your original, overblown presentation, but how much it’s increased by what you’re entitled to get,” Fuchs said.
Opinions and passions are strong on both sides of the project, and the anti-One Paseo group appeared to be the loudest. Twice Chair Frisco White had to silence jeering from the crowd, reminding people to be respectful of others and their opinions.
The loudest roar of applause was prompted by County Supervisor Dave Roberts. Although he does not get a vote on the project, he said he has followed it closely and studied every document, and that his five children will attend or have attended schools in the Carmel Valley neighborhood.
“Community character counts, and we cannot allow something three times the zoning to be approved,” Roberts said.
Traffic has been a major sticking point for the opposition throughout the entire process, and on Thursday, Kilroy revealed its belief that with One Paseo, travel times will actually improve because of the $6 million it is plugging into improving local roads and the installation of a comprehensive transportation demand management program that reduces delays and stops, moves traffic more efficiently and replaces antiquated hardware.
Representing Kilroy, engineer John Leppert said the program uses advanced technology to create real-time traffic solutions and will give the entire network of signals in Carmel Valley “a total makeover.” With the coordination, travel time improves by 8 to 13 percent, and stopped time on Del Mar Heights Road improves 20 to 29 percent. In the case of El Camino Real, travel time improves 13 to 21 percent and stopped time improves 32 to 46 percent.
“It’s the stops that aggravate the commuter, not the number of cars on the road,” Leppert said.
He said the system has been used to see positive results in a few areas around San Diego County, including a 26 percent improvement on Palomar Airport Road and a 21 percent improvement on Carlsbad Village Drive, both similar high-volume east-to-west roads.
Kilroy is proposing to improve 40 area intersections using the system, as well as to install a new emergency vehicle system that allows first responders to control the intersections. Leppert said an emergency response route can be identified in advance, and the system can help clear the vehicle’s path before it even reaches the signals. Slowed emergency response times have long been a concern of the Torrey Pines community, which relies on Fire Station 24 on Del Mar Heights Road.
Supporter Janette Littler, who lives within walking distance of the project, said that she appreciates all the traffic improvements One Paseo will bring.
“Absent a project like this, we will never see these kinds of upgrades in Carmel Valley,” Littler said. “Our lives will be enhanced by One Paseo. I want more than that glorified strip mall across from me.”
Opponents remained unconvinced that commutes would improve with the addition of a 1.5-million-square-foot development and two new traffic lights.
Fuchs said that he sees the project as making the traffic four times as bad, not better, making residents prisoners in their own community. He said much of the traffic study assumes a full buildout of the Interstate 5 widening and the SR-56 connection, which might not happen until 2030 or beyond.
“Make no mistake, the approval of One Paseo will sentence Carmel Valley and the nearby communities to gridlock jail for life, with no possibility of parole for 14 years,” Fuchs said.
Resident Gabrielle Stratton offered an alternative view, noting she is retired and travels on Del Mar Heights Road often during the day.
“There is no traffic during the day, so I’m assuming it’s during rush hour,” Stratton said.
She said it would be a shame for the community to lose the project over two hours of traffic in the mornings and evenings.
Resident Dennis Glaser agreed; he tends to believe that there will be additional traffic, but it will mostly occur in those peak hours.
“Carmel Valley needs something other than Del Mar Highlands for amenities and facilities to keep us in this area,” Glaser said, “I think Carmel Valley could use a big development to keep us in Carmel Valley, so we don’t have to leave and spend time on the freeways.”
While Kilroy representatives said they believe their plan was shaped by community input, opponents said they felt like they weren’t listening at all and that the project is still too big, still too much traffic.
Ray Ravellos said he lives less than a half a mile from the project and works from home, where he sees the traffic in the area all day long. He said he can’t imagine the traffic being three times as bad.
“This project is just way too much for us,” Ravellos said.
With the traffic factor, opponents said it would be hard to think of One Paseo as feeling like their community center.
“Truthfully, there would be no negatives if this project was 510,000 square feet,” said Harvey Goldstein, a 22-year resident of Carmel Valley.
Goldstein contended that the majority of people in Carmel Valley are against the project and he implored Councilmember Lightner to bring to the council the message of the people.
Marcela Escobar-Eck, representing Kilroy, said that with the project’s design, the company is providing an enhancement to the community’s character. Kilroy aims to transform Del Mar Heights Road into a safe and enjoyable pedestrian environment with crosswalks, wide sidewalks and a dedicated cycle track, according to Escobar-Eck.
She added that Kilroy also seeks to create places for people throughout the project, such as a gateway town green on Del Mar Heights, which flows into a plaza with shops and cafes and down onto the activated “Main Street.” Main Street leads into a market plaza off El Camino Real. Animated renderings showed people strolling down tree-lined sidewalks, running on a path around the town green, and enjoying an al fresco meal at sunset in the market plaza, the office buildings in the distance.
Escobar-Eck said the opposition likes to scare people by threatening that One Paseo’s office buildings will be towering monoliths — but, in fact she said, they will be located on the lowest portion of the site, a 70-foot grade differential from Del Mar Heights Road.
Farinksy said it’s hard to dispute that Kilroy’s renderings look great, but the project does not fit in Carmel Valley— it’s too big, too dense.
Some supporters spoke in favor of adding density. Resident Bill Lynch said he believes the project to be smart growth development for the city, and Charlie Singh said he sees One Paseo as bringing lots of new people to Carmel Valley and building a stronger tax base.
“We have a wonderful, thriving downtown in San Diego,” retorted resident Karen Kelley. “If you want urban density, move there, but don’t put it in Carmel Valley.”
What Price Main Street believes a smaller scale One Paseo would still attract tenants and customers without putting the community in “traffic jail.” Bob Freund encouraged the board to reject this One Paseo, as the buttons read, and ask Kilroy to come back with a smaller version.
“If you build a smaller One Paseo, they will still come,” Freund said.