FAQ regarding the construction of the Regents Road Bridge
by Harry Mathis
1. If the District One Representative, where the project is located, and the local planning group are against the Bridge, why not support their position?
A. It is much more than a District One issue. It is a regional issue affecting traffic flow well outside the boundaries of District One. Regents Road is an extension of Clairemont Mesa Blvd., one of the most important arteries in the entire City’s surface street infrastructure. It extends from the eastern boundary of Tierra Santa across four freeways through Kearny Mesa and Clairemont to come to an abrupt end at Rose Canyon, just short of the “Golden Triangle,” the largest commercial, medical, scientific research, and high density residential center in San Diego. This gap has artificially and unnecessarily concentrated the traffic burden on Genesee Avenue, the only other off-freeway north-south link. Genesee, another major artery, only extends to SR-163. Both major arteries are critical relievers to potential freeway congestion. (See FAQ’s 14 & 15 for safety issues.)
2. Why is this traffic issue so important as a regional matter?
A. In the next 20 years, SANDAG projects a population increase in the region of about one million people mostly from local births over deaths. The number of workers in the downtown area is predicted to grow from 90,000 to about 160,000. A comparable effect can be expected in major centers throughout the City, and the freeways will not be able to absorb the traffic impacts without an effective backup surface street network for shorter trips. One of the most critical gaps in our city’s traffic infrastructure is Regents Road/Clairemont Mesa Blvd, where it is interrupted at Rose Canyon in a notorious choke point for north-south coastal traffic flow squeezed between Mount Soledad and MCAS, Miramar. Closing gaps like Regent’s Road is essential to address the present and future mobility needs of San Diegans.
3. Why not simply improve Genesee by adding an extra lane in each direction at less cost?
A. The current cost of widening Genesee from SR-52 to Nobel Drive in round numbers is $25M, with additional limited road improvements of $5M (necessary if the Bridge is not built), for a total of $30M. The estimate for the Bridge is $35M including south end approach improvements. For a relatively modest difference, the Bridge provides an alternative route with new capacity of four traffic lanes, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian sidewalks, which could significantly relieve Genesee.
Increasing traffic flow on Genesee only increases the concerns felt by the University City Community about the safety of pedestrians, and the impacts on adjacent University City High School, Standley Middle School, and Curie Elementary School. It would also require widening the bridge across Rose Canyon, which could impact the main entrance to the park. The additional lanes would require removal of large numbers of trees along its length, and condemnation of private property affecting about one thousand residents in bordering complexes, which now have minimal setbacks.
Widening Genesee would be significantly constrained at the Governor Drive intersection, which has a gasoline service station on each corner, and would create safety and access issues at the adjacent schools. Genesee traffic flow is also constrained by 13 traffic lights from SR 52 to I-5, which cannot be effectively synchronized along its full length.
Construction on Genesee in the absence of an alternative route at Regents would impact heavily on Genesee and the already congested freeways, not to mention its effect on the residents living along Genesee. Widening Genesee virtually dictates the prior availability of Regents Road Bridge as a reliever alternative.
Regents Road was specifically designed to minimize its impact on the University City community. There are no residences fronting on Regents Road between SR-52 And Rose Canyon. Between SR 52 and Governor Drive, Regents Road runs in a canyon. North of Rose Canyon, the only residential curb cuts are common entryways for large multi-family complexes. The construction of the parallel Regents Road Bridge alternative would not disrupt traffic flow, not condemn property, not require mass tree removal, and when completed, would directly relieve the traffic and safety concerns. It could well preclude the need for widening Genesee, saving $25M.
4. Where does the Genesee widening project (NUC-A) stand in relation to the Regents Road Bridge (NUC-18) in the current version of the Transportation Phasing Plan of the North University City Facilities Financing Plan?
A. Since at least 1989, the widening of Genesee has been conditioned to an earlier traffic threshold than the Regents Road Bridge. For the reasons stated in in the preceding paragraph, this is not feasible from a planning standpoint, and must be corrected. The widening of Genesee with its severe impacts on the community at great cost with marginal benefits, must not go forward without first completing the Regent Road Bridge, and then reexamining the need for the widening of Genesee given the significant added capacity afforded by the Bridge.
5. What about the Mid-Coast Trolley Project, which would extend light rail service along the I-5 corridor from the downtown area to UCSD and University Towne Center? Wouldn’t that provide significant relief to the traffic problem without the Bridge?
A. That would certainly be considered as part of the EIR. Until the EIR is completed, one can only speculate.
6. Because of the economy, collections for the FBA have been deferred. Why should we move forward with the Regents Bridge process if the money isn’t there to build it?
A. City staff has stated that the money will be enough to support the construction of the bridge with an adjustment in the construction year to accommodate the moving forward of the improvements to the I-5/Genesee interchange. The money is available now to proceed with the project specific EIR and preliminary bridge design which are necessary to be able to make the decision whether to build the Bridge. The action of the LU&H committee in July, 2010, at the behest of the District One representative to block the letting of a contract for the project specific EIR prevents us from gathering the information necessary to make a decision on the Bridge. No facts have been presented that would justify not going forth with an EIR, only speculation about the potential impacts. In the meantime, the need for, and potential cost of the Bridge increases with each passing day. Because the project is funded by a Facilities Benefit Assessment district (FBA), it is budget neutral for the City. Therefore, moving forward on the EIR is a prudent course, with prospects for a significant payoff in increased traffic capacity and relief. It is a move that protects the Council’s options.
7. Wouldn’t the proposed location of the Bridge in proximity to the Rose Canyon Fault make it vulnerable to loss in the event of an earthquake along the fault?
A. The Fault is located near the summit of La Jolla Parkway west of I-5, and runs roughly parallel to I-5. The Bridge would be built to the latest earthquake standards, and could be more resistant to damage than the massive I-5/SR-52 interchange, which is actually closer to the fault and was originally designed and built to 1960’s standards. If I-5 were cut, the Regents Road Bridge could be a vital link for movement of emergency vehicles and to facilitate emergency evacuations.
8. By moving forward with a project specific EIR, aren’t we just inviting another lawsuit, which will potentially mean further delay and added expenses?
A. The Council will be asked to approve separate contracts for a project specific EIR, and a preliminary bridge design to enable the appropriate evaluation of its impacts, which will be consistent with the settlement in the Court case. The City Attorney will ensure that the Council’s action, as a process, is not vulnerable to legal challenge under CEQA. One can always anticipate legal challenges to the results by the opponents, as a delaying tactic. The funding for the EIR is available now.
9. What about the environmental concerns over the impacts on Rose Canyon?
A. We can only properly assess the true impacts when the project specific EIR is completed. If the environmentalists’ claims that the Bridge will “destroy” the canyon “experience” are valid, they should welcome the study, instead of objecting to it. In the absence of an EIR, claims by the opponents of extreme environmental impacts are speculative and self-serving.
10. Rose Canyon has been described by some as “pristine,” and the “last open space west of I-805.” It is also home to a variety of wild animals. The critics say a bridge will “destroy” the canyon “experience.” Aren’t these reasons enough not to put a bridge across it?
A. Rose Canyon Open Space Park is a valuable open space buffer in an urban setting. It, and its companion, San Clemente Canyon’s Marian Bear Open Space Park just south of SR-52, make this area among the richest in open space in the entire city. It should be protected from development, but it was never intended to be a barrier to legitimate circulation needs such as the long planned Regents Bridge any more than Marian Bear Memorial Natural Park which is crossed at ground level by both Genesee and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard a.k.a. Regents Road. Unlike the ground level crossings at Marian Bear, the 960 foot bridge span across Rose Canyon at Regents Road will be a high bridge to minimize its impact on the floor of the canyon.
“Pristine” is not an accurate description of the canyon environment. In the 1850’s, Louis Rose, for whom the canyon is named, established a ranch there on 1920 acres, which included a vineyard, tobacco acreage, and ample pasture for livestock. He added a large-scale tannery, a brickyard, and mined coal deposits and clay on the site. In 1882, the California Southern Railroad completed a track through the canyon and by 1912, the Elvira Station was a train stop near Gilman Drive. Subsequent landowners expanded on Rose’s notion of using Rose Canyon commercially, and the Sawday Ranch was maintained until the 1960’s, when the last structures were removed. The original railroad right of way was abandoned, and replaced by the current right of way consisting of a double track section closer to the northern edge of the canyon which comprises the main line to Los Angeles carrying 55 or more trains each day. This rail traffic will increase threefold when plans to double track the corridor are completed. Rose Canyon also hosts the main sewer trunk line complete with manholes from the North City Reclamation Plant to Point Loma down its center, two overhead high voltage lines, an underground gas line, and two dirt utility roads to service these utilities. Both sides of the canyon are rimmed with visible residences, and significant portions of the southern slopes are covered with non-native ice plant to protect the homes above from fire.
The recreational “experience” in Rose Canyon is mostly limited to the use of the utility road along the base of the southern slope which functions as a path for hikers and trail bikers. Movement off the path is discouraged out of fear of damaging the plant life, the danger from rattlesnakes, and exposure to large concentrations of poison oak. Significant sections along the path have adjacent fencing to prevent entry into the areas being restored with native vegetation which can be expected to restricted areas. Primary access is gained at Genesee, but there is no parking available except across the street at University City High School, which can only be used when school is out. Entrance can also be gained on the South side at the Regents Road terminus, but access requires descending a steep path. There is a utility road on the North side of the Canyon, but it is sandwiched between the private residences lining the Canyon, and the railroad right of way. There are no convenience facilities in the park, and it is not accessible to the handicapped. Other than specific activities occasionally organized by park advocates, these factors have resulted in limited park use.
A high bridge across the park will certainly have visual impacts, but will cause minimal disturbance to the canyon floor, far less than the linear railroad and sewer line. Once completed, it will not impede the activities of the indigenous population, and will eliminate the need for trespassing across the railroad right of way. However, for the many people who will safely cross the canyon on the bridge each day, in cars, bicycles, and on foot, it will afford a spectacular and incomparable vista of the canyon never before seen. Improvements to the park as part of the project will make it more accessible and attract more users. Noise can be mitigated by proper design of the bridge, the use of rubber asphalt road surfaces, and prohibiting heavy truck traffic.
11. What about the contention that a $20,000 grant from the State for restoration work in Rose Canyon requires the approval of the State Legislature before a bridge can be built?
A. The application by the City’s Park & Recreation Department, on which the grant was based, requested the money for removal of “large strands of invasive, non-native vegetation from Rose Creek where it runs through Rose Canyon Open Space Park.” The application omitted any mention of the bridge in stating that nothing other than park use was planned for Rose Canyon Park. The Grant language specifies that any change in use for the applicable area other than a park requires the approval of the State Legislature. In truth, the Bridge does not represent a “change in use.” And would not affect the park status. The Bridge would be built within a “dedicated” right of way for Regents Road, which was established by its recordation by the City Engineer in 1965. The official maps and legal descriptions of the properties which comprise the park, do not include the land dedicated for the Bridge right of way. Thus, any plantings in the Bridge right of way are outside the park and do not belong there under the terms of the grant. The same exclusion areas are recorded for the railroad and Genesee. If tasked, the City Attorney can take the necessary actions to dismiss this concern.
12. Do any of the other restoration projects initiated in Rose Canyon by the City encroach on the dedicated Bridge right-of-way?
A. The 2007-2008 Upland and Wetland Mitigation Project authorized by the City Council also recognizes the dedicated Bridge right of way according to the maps, which specify the limits of the restoration areas. The restoration areas in question are identified on the canyon floor by fences with signage to protect the sensitive plantings. The fence line boundaries, where appropriate, stop short of encroachment on the designated right of way for the Bridge project. There are no warning signs identifying restoration work within the Bridge right of way.
13. What is the historical and legal basis for building the Bridge?
A. The basic mandate for the Bridge is contained in the successively adopted versions of the applicable Community Plan, which identify the Bridge as a major element in the required infrastructure to mitigate the traffic impacts of the planned development in North University City, popularly known as the “Golden Triangle.” The dedicated right of way across Rose Canyon for the Bridge was recorded by the City Engineer in 1965, and upheld through successive reviews and revisions to the Community Plan.
For more than 30 years, fees have been collected from developers and deposited into the Facility Benefits Assessment (FBA) fund to pay for the infrastructure improvements, including the Bridge. Sequencing and funding of the projects including the Bridge are prescribed in the FBA Financing Plan, which has been updated and approved annually by every City Council since the establishment of the FBA. Thus, the proponents believe that the building of the Bridge is a long established obligation on the part of the City.
After a lengthy north-south traffic corridor study initiated by District One Councilmember Scott Peters, and consideration of 7 possible alternatives, the City Council voted 6-2 on August 1, 2006, to select the Regents Road Bridge as the alternative of choice, and to move forward with a project specific EIR which requires a preliminary design of the Bridge. After a lengthy dispute with the Bridge opponents who brought suit over the legality of the way the contracts were written for the EIR, the matter was finally settled in a judgement of the Court against the City Council, which required rescinding the original contracts.
New contracts, consistent with the Court’s decision, were prepared City Staff for action by the City Council to continue the process set in motion by the Council in 2006, but the contract process was blocked at the City’s Land Use & Housing Committee at the urging of the current District One representative, Sherri Lightner, who campaigned on opposing the construction of the Bridge. Thus, the City Council has not acted on the matter, and the process remains in limbo.
14. What is the take in the local community on this issue?
A. The community of University City is bitterly divided down the middle between the residents impacted by the high traffic volumes on Genesee who want the Bridge to alleviate the pressure on Genesee, and feel their neighbors in the Regents Road area should share the traffic burden as had always been planned; versus those primarily residing in the vicinity of Regents Road who seek to preserve their status quo as a neighborhood cul-de-sac with Regent’s Road essentially functioning as a private driveway. They do not want the added traffic, and believe the status quo adds a premium to their property values. All of the affected property owners were advised of the plan to build the Bridge at the time they purchased their homes. Unfortunately, the University Community Planning Group Executive Committee does not accurately represent a balance of community views. The UCPG has been dominated for years by anti-bridge activists, who have aggressively and systematically worked to bar candidates who favor the Bridge from membership on the Executive Committee. The opposition has been joined by environmental organizations who oppose any impacts on Rose Canyon. A local group called “Friends of Rose Canyon” who brought the successful suit against the City on the contract issue and is well financed by a generous settlement from the City, has a assumed a leadership role in opposing the Bridge. The core of this group consists of local residents residing on or near the rim of the Canyon in the vicinity of Regents Road on both sides of the Canyon. There are, however, a number of residents living near the canyon who support the bridge for safety and convenience reasons.
Heightening the divide in the community is the concern by bridge supporters over the well-publicized excessive response times by emergency vehicles, which are the worst in the city, especially during peak hours; and the lack of a readily accessible escape route in the event of a natural disaster. They reason that public safety should be a priority consideration by the Council to approve moving forward with the Bridge. Successive Police and Fire Chiefs have supported the Bridge project on these safety grounds from the perspective of improving their ability to deploy their limited resources more quickly and effectively. The Cedar fire experience has also convinced many residents in the western end who normally use Regents Road for access to the freeway of the need for the bridge as an evacuation option in the event of a natural disaster.
In the absence of the Bridge, pedestrian traffic has been identified crossing the canyon floor on footpaths connecting the dead ends of Regents Road. These mostly youths put themselves at risk trespassing across the main railroad tracks on the northern side of the canyon. Hikers and bicyclists using the canyon path also illegally cross the tracks to enter or exit at the western end of the Canyon on Villa La Jolla. The projected substantial increase in rail traffic as the double tracking of the Los Angeles-San Diego (LOSSAN) corridor progresses will only make the trespassing situation more dangerous as the current rail traffic of 52-55 trains per day is expected to more than double!
15. Wouldn’t the safety concerns be alleviated if one or more new fire stations were simply installed in the South University City community?
A. This has been suggested by both the District One Representative and the local planning group, but suitable locations have not been identified, and the inability of the Fire Department to man and equip all of its existing stations resulting in a “brown out” strategy in the past, makes this notion appear uncertain. Further, new fire stations do not address police response times, or the underlying traffic issues at the heart of this matter. The improved access to the community afforded by the Bridge is the only option on the table that would successfully address both the traffic and safety issues, and allow more efficient and effective use of San Diego’s limited police and fire department resources.
16. How can I donate?
A. There are two basic ways to donate:
- Click on our GoFundMe donate button or use the link: https://www.gofundme.com/cftrrb
- Mail a check made payable to “Citizens For The Regents Road Bridge” or simply “CFTRRB” to our address: 4079 Governor Dr. #165, San Diego CA 92122
17. What are donations to Citizens for the Regents Road Bridge used for?
A. We are an advocacy organization working hard to ensure that University City and our surrounding communities are not condemned to a future of unacceptable traffic levels and inadequate roadways. We have volunteers who do a great deal of work on an uncompensated basis. Our website work, petition drives, email campaigns, and incorporation research is all being done by volunteers. The money raised IS PRIMARILY for Legal representation and filing fees. However, many of the things we have to do also require funding such as traffic engineering research, legal research, payments for website product maintenance, July 4th Booth costs, and other functions.
18. Are donations tax deductible?
A. Your contributions will be tax deductible as we have now filed as a 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation. According to the IRS, while an application is pending, the organization can treat itself as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) and donations would be tax deductible for income tax purposes. We must tell you that in the unlikely case that the application is rejected, those donations under our pending 501 (c) (3) application would lose their tax deductibility.
19. How much should I donate?
A. We truly appreciate any size donation. Anything from $5 to $100 or more would be welcome and we thank you for considering a donation. The money will be put to good use. We do not have any salaried or directly compensated staff members, so all of our funds go to productive research and communications to forward our advocacy for a more complete and safer roadway system in University City and La Jolla Colony.