Solana Beach agrees to share cost of transit center project parking study


By Joe Tash


Planning for a proposed mixed-use development at the Solana Beach Transit Center took another step forward as the Solana Beach City Council approved paying half the cost of a parking study for the project.

The council voted unanimously at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 14, to spend up to $33,500, which includes half the cost of the $58,000 study, plus 15 percent for unforeseen contingencies.

Accurately estimating the amount of parking needed to serve transit riders is seen as critical, because spaces in an underground parking structure cost $30,000 to $35,000 apiece, City Manager David Ott told the council.

Underground parking is the only way to fit adequate parking on the long, narrow property, which is at the intersection of Lomas Santa Fe and West Cedros avenues, Ott said. The North County Transit District owns the 5.7-acre parcel, although it is located within the city of Solana Beach.

Coaster and Amtrak trains stop at the station each day on their way back and forth between San Diego and destinations to the north.

Ott said work on the parking study was set to begin immediately after the council approved its share of the cost.

The city and the transit district signed a “memorandum of understanding” in February, agreeing to work together on development of a mixed-use project at the train station, which could include residential units, retail businesses, office space and a parking structure.

The agreement marks a renewed effort after a previous plan to develop the property, called Cedros Crossing, generated opposition from nearby residents and city officials. Residents took issue with the size and scale of the proposed project, while city officials questioned its financial viability. The transit district dropped the project in 2008.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, officials praised what they said was a new spirit of cooperation shown by the transit district.

The current working relationship is like “night and day” when compared with the experience of the Cedros Crossing, said Councilman Mike Nichols, who is serving with Mayor Lesa Heebner on a train station subcommittee.

“It’s been a completely different experience working with transit district officials this time around,” said Ott.

Ray Patchett, a consultant to the transit district for the Solana Beach project, agreed.

“I think it’s an excellent relationship. I don’t think it gets much better than it is today,” Patchett said.

Joe Foust, of Austin-Foust Associates, Inc., has been selected to conduct the parking study. City officials noted that he is very familiar with the train station and surrounding area after working on Cedros Crossing, a review of the Del Mar Fairgrounds Master Plan and the I-5 expansion plan.

The parking study will include reviews of previous studies, interviews with transit riders and others at the station, the use of existing security cameras to study parking patterns, and a pilot program to determine how much transit riders are willing to pay for parking, officials said.

Ott noted that “time is of the essence,” because the city and transit district hope to secure up to $25 million to pay for the underground parking garage through funds administered by Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments, which could include money from a transportation sales tax approved by county voters.

At the same time as the parking study, officials plan to flesh out details of what would be included in the mixed-use development, Ott said, a process that will include meeting with community members.

Staff from the two agencies will identify developers with experience in similar projects, and as soon as the beginning of next year, a request for proposals could be sent out to narrow the field to a single developer for the project, Ott said.

Both the Solana Beach council and the transit district board would have to approve the project before construction could begin.