Torrey Hills board wants city to halt spending on greenbelt enhancement project

By Karen Billing

The Torrey Hills Community Planning Board voted Feb. 18 to send a letter to the city to request a stop in spending on the enhancement project on East Ocean Air Drive until the city officially approves the project.

While board member Brad Fagan has been dealing with Ali Darvishi, the supervising project manager and deputy city engineer, and has verbally made the request to stop spending, the board was not sure the message was clear and wanted it in writing after receiving an email last week from Darvishi.

At its January meeting, the board had requested specific costs of materials to be included in the city’s budget for the enhancement as it is currently very “vague,” as well as an accounting for the money that has already been spent. In an email sent last week, Darvishi said that to get them that information the city would have to spend money.

Board member Kim Walker said it’s hard to comprehend that the information is not readily available — the work would have invoices and the line items would have to have numbers attached to them to come up with the $441,000 cost they were pitched in last month’s meeting.

“I don’t think it costs them to give us what they’ve already done,” agreed Torrey Hills planning board chair Kathryn Burton.

City staff and consultants presented plans for the enhancement in January and reported that they could start construction in March 2015. The estimated construction cost would be $231,000, plus soft costs for the environmental process and a site development permit, which can be as much as $100,000. Potentially, the enhancement could end up costing the entire amount in the Torrey Hills maintenance assessment district (MAD) budget: $441,000.

The city had to undergo biological surveys and reports due to the vernal pools on the site before starting the implementation and design process and already $100,000 has been spent.

In November 2013, the planning board approved spending $290,000 on the project and voted to enter a reimbursement agreement with the city, to ensure money not used on the greenbelt can be returned for use in other areas of the community. As board member Guy Ravad has stated, they do not want to spend half a million dollars on this project.

The proposed plans are designed to maintain access for SDG&E and protect the sensitive land that is within the Multiple Habitat Protection Area. The plans include a 5-foot wide decomposed granite trail that meanders through the site, a small trellis with benches near the view of the Los Penasquitos Canyon, native plant materials and shrubs, such as grasses and wildflowers.

Fagan said that Darvishi has been receptive and empathetic in working with him, but the planning board would like to see the construction costs in detail and to see if there is any way to reduce the price and not spend the entire amount in the MAD budget.

“The city is very adept at looking at what they believe to be their budget and spending it, now we just have to pull that back,” Ravad said. “We’re going to get this thing into the reasonable category.”