Jeff Clemetson | Editor
On Feb. 6, the city released a revised working draft of the environmental impact report (EIR) for the Mission Valley community plan update (CPU). City planner and Mission Valley CPU project manager Nancy Graham presented the plan’s changes at the Mission Valley Planning Group meeting that day.
The most substantial change to the CPU was a compromise reached on the controversial Via Las Cumbres road extension. The original plan was to expand Via Las Cumbres over the trolley tracks, through the proposed Riverwalk development and over the San Diego River, eventually linking up with Hotel Circle North and Interstate 8. At previous meetings, planning group members, representatives of Riverwalk developers Hines, and Mission Valley residents opposed the road extension citing a variety of concerns including traffic, environmental and aesthetic issues.
“We have been working with the Hines team and the Riverwalk owners to come up with a compromise about Via Los Cumbres and we have reached one that both parties are agreeing to,” Graham said.
The compromise reached involves connecting Friars Road to Hotel Circle North with a new road, currently dubbed “Street J.” Street J will run east of Via Las Cumbres and instead of the four-lane connector envisioned previously. It will be a two-lane, grade-separated street with a painted median that will go under the trolley tracks instead of over them.
“So Via Las Cumbres as you know will come down the hill and it will still dead end into the tracks,” Graham said. “One block to the east, Street J becomes a more direct connection down to I-8.”
Street J will also have bike facilities going in both directions “so in an emergency evacuation, you could still use emergency vehicles and repurpose those lanes because it would sufficient for emergency access, though it would only be a two-lane major [thoroughfare] during regular operations,” Graham added.
Access for emergency vehicles was the main reason the city cited for the need for a north-south road connector on the west side of Mission Valley.
“It’s a compromise where the Planning Department feels like we got the connectivity that we were seeking in order to provide for emergency access and things we were concerned about. But it also makes the project itself less impactful being able to go under the tracks instead of above the tracks,” Graham said.
The Street J connector would still cross the San Diego River as a “high-water crossing” that would not be subject to flooding and would connect to a future Interstate 8 interchange along Hotel Circle North designed by CalTrans, Graham said.
The compromise plan was mostly met with support as an improvement over the impactful Via Las Cumbres extension. But planning group members raised concerns with the overall CPU.
Perry Dealy criticized the CPU for not capturing the city’s “new philosophy of housing first” and
pointed to the plan not allowing properties south of Interstate 8 to add housing and mixed-use development.
Alan Grant took issue with the Street J compromise because it would still “pinch the river” by building a bridge over it that will impact water flows. He described the plan as “a disappointment.”
Marco Sessa asked why the CPU’s EIR doesn’t include a section on developer impact fees.
“You will have all the information that will indicate what a fee will be, with projects lists and cost estimates,” Graham replied. “That will be available in a draft form when this plan goes to City Council. We’re shooting for this summer. It will not be a packaged document because we allow Council to make changes on the fly, so we don’t finish that document.”
Sessa asked how the planning group was supposed to evaluate projects without understanding the cost implications to the impact fees and used the Street J project as an example. Because Street J is listed as a long-term project, it implies that Hines would not contribute money to building it as they develop Riverwalk, he said.
Graham said that Hines funding for the Street J project was “still under negotiation.”
“I guess the question for me is, if it is going to end up raising everybody’s fees by $10,000, potentially making projects unfeasible, is that an appropriate tradeoff for the bridge or not?” Sessa asked. “And you’re asking us to comment on an environmental document without the economic information that would traditionally go along with something like this.”
Graham said that the city has not released impact fee studies in its recent community update plans because of their complexity.
The working draft EIR for the Mission Valley CPU is available to read at bit.ly/2DCj4OC. Comments of the plan will be taken through the end of March.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.