By Karen Billing
Kilroy Realty unveiled “new community benefits” for its One Paseo project at a special meeting held Aug. 8. The benefits include a tree-lined boulevard along Del Mar Heights Road; a village walk along El Camino Real with a series of public plazas and spaces; a proposed new soccer field at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center; and creating connections to trails that have been missing.
Marcela Escobar-Eck, a planner and Kilroy representative, said one complaint they’ve heard from detractors is that the project is too inwardly focused and creates an island that is not connected to the community. She said that criticism led them to look outward to see how they could change the overall community, which led to plans for several contributions, none of it mitigation, representing over $5 million of “above and beyond” and “extraordinary” benefits.
“All of the improvements are external to the project, you don’t have to make one step into the project to enjoy it,” said John Leppert, representing Kilroy.
More than 200 people attended the Aug. 8 meeting on the proposed benefits. The meeting was held at Ocean Air Elementary School.
Some in the audience and on the planning board were unconvinced, one audience member likening Kilroy’s improvements to putting “lipstick on a pig.”
“To call this a boulevard is really not quite right, this is enhanced landscaping. I don’t see it as extraordinary benefits at all,” said board member Anne Harvey. “This isn’t it…Thanks for trying.”
Other residents appreciated Kilroy’s efforts and felt they had listened to and addressed community concerns.
“I think this is fabulous. Many of the people came here with their minds already made up and they’re not even listening to the wonderful enhancements that have been offered to our community,” said Carol Klein, a Carmel Valley resident since 1986. “This is so exciting that we could get so much more than what the original plan had.”
One Paseo’s current plans for the project are 1.4 million square feet, more than the 500,000 square feet of office space that the project is currently entitled to. Plans include 246,500 square of retail, 484,000 square foot of office, as well as 608 residential units and a “Main Street” with signed anchor tenant Trader Joe’s.
The project is still under city review and Carmel Valley Community Planning Board Chair Frisco White said that portions of the Draft Environmental Impact Report will be re-circulated in the coming months, including the city’s request for a study of an alternative that ranges 600,000 to 800,000 square feet.
Michael Stepner, a former planning director for the city of San Diego who was involved in the original drafting of the 1975 North City West Community Plan, has joined Kilroy’s planning efforts.
Stepner said he believes One Paseo’s benefits maintains the intent of the community plan, to unify the area, create a cultural core and give priority to pedestrians.
Stepner said it’s not about the size of the project or the traffic, it’s about the quality of the place. While his statement elicited groans from a vocal opposition, he continued: “It’s really about the community and the people who live here, creating a place and a space for people,” he said.
One Paseo’s plan stresses walkability, ways to make pedestrians feel more comfortable using the community’s broad arterials that can at times feel intimidating and unsafe.
“Carmel Valley today is a great community with a great community spirit and great facilities, but the experience is dominated by cars and parking lots. That was not what was envisioned in creating a town center,” said Frank Wolden, an architect working with Kilroy.
On Del Mar Heights Road, Kilroy plans to add crosswalks and create a wider pedestrian boulevard separated from the street by landscaping and trees. A bike lane using a seamless or monolithic pour would provide a visual change that delineates the bike lane.
A linear park would run alongside Del Mar Heights Road so there would be a green setback with trees and benches before people would see building facades.
Kilroy also would like to add in a 500-foot-long, tree-lined median to break up the “sea of asphalt” from I-5. “It will change what it feels like to drive into Carmel Valley,” Escobar-Eck said.
To give a sense of arrival into Carmel Valley, Kilroy is proposing monumentation for the community — it wouldn’t have to be neon like Hillcrest’s signage, Escobar-Eck said, and they would work with the community on the design.
Detractors expressed doubt about the necessity of the crosswalks, arguing that nobody will be walking and that One Paseo will be a regional destination served by cars.
Rick Newman said a good study of how useful crosswalks are is the bridge over Del Mar Heights to Del Mar Highlands that he never sees anyone using.
“As a driver, I just want to get from point A to point B. I’m not as concerned with how people are getting to the project,” planning board member Nancy Novak said.
Stepner argued that the improvements will encourage more people to take to walking or riding.
“I’ve heard nobody walks in Carmel Valley,” Stepner said. “Part of it is there’s nowhere to walk to and no way to cross the street.”
Carmel Valley import Carrie Mecaro spoke of how she moved to the area from the very walkable city of Portland and would like to see that replicated in her neighborhood.
“This project encompasses something that San Diego hasn’t seen,” said Mecaro, noting that One Paseo could inform other projects throughout the city.
While there would be added crosswalks and new traffic lights, Kilroy plans to use an adaptive control system to link lights on Del Mar Heights from the I-5 interchange all the way to Carmel Canyon. Leppert said that in San Marcos a similar system has improved traffic 19 to 40 percent — they hope it will keep traffic moving through the area at a slower speed.
On El Camino Real, Kilroy aims to bring energy to the street with “a string of pearls,” a series of public plazas and spaces that are not places in the project but places in the community.
As Escobar-Eck said that Carmel Valley has an extreme shortage of playing fields, Kilroy also looked at improving the play facilities at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center. They also would like to change what that edge of Townsgate Drive and El Camino Real feels like.
“The 30-foot high wall that separates the road from the main campus is certainly not inviting and the parking lot fulfills the parking requirements, but is certainly the last place you look to park,” Leppert said.
Potential plans include a landscaped gateway with a wide- open staircase that leads up to the center, tucking the parking under and covering the parking with a full-size regulation soccer field, arena field or cheer facilities.
“This is really a tremendous asset that is really under-utilized,” Escobar-Eck said.
White expressed concern that this and other enhancements would actually happen, both timing and funding-wise.
Escobar-Eck said Kilroy would take on the design and engineering costs. The project could generate $12-14 million in facilities benefit assessment funds that could go toward its construction.
White suggested that should the project be approved, Kilroy advance the entire funding for the work and be reimbursed with FBA funds at a later date. He also said they would like to see how these improvements would be maintained over time, possibly working funding, timing and maintenance into development agreements.
Escobar-Eck said that also would like to become “champions” for trail systems. They plan to advance the CVREP trail 1.23 miles under I-5 to link Old Sorrento Valley Road to the existing SR-56 bike path, creating access to the lagoon and ocean. The link is not expected to be completed until 2050. They would also advance an existing dirt path to commercial grade to link the SR-56 bike path with El Camino Real.
As has been the case at past community meetings, there was a full audience of supporters wearing green One Paseo stickers and opponents in “Save Carmel Valley” stickers, and the meeting lasted about three hours.
“I think a lot of the opposition’s reasons not to support the project are fear-based, the ideas that it could cause traffic or hold-ups — why is that so bad in comparison to what it brings for us?” resident Meredith Victor said and opponents groaned so loudly that White had to bang his gavel and warn that if people didn’t show respect for others’ opinions he would terminate the meeting. “I believe in walking,” Victor continued. “And I think Kilroy has been listening and taking people’s issues into consideration. Let this community grow.”
Gabriele Prater, a 22-year Carmel Valley resident, admitted that the community enhancements were the first positive things she’s heard about the project and said she’s not opposed to open space, connectivity and sidewalks.
“But it’s just icing on the cake,” Prater said. “The problem is and always will be — until it’s solved — the extreme square footage of the development. It doesn’t go away with a couple of pretty trees.”
To view renderings of some of the proposals, visit