Ann Gardner | Via Latina
Site of El Camino Real road-widening project. Photo Craig Adams
On the opposite side of the River Valley from the proposed Flower Hill expansion an entirely different project is getting underway: the first phase of a corridor improvement plan where preservation of the environment takes priority. It is testimony to the patience and persistence of local conservationists.
In 2005 the City of San Diego issued the first of three plans for road widening projects on El Camino Real and Via de la Valle as the roads traverse the River Valley from Carmel Valley across the old El Camino Real Bridge past the polo fields to Via de la Valle. The first leg of the project, now underway, crosses the only remaining wildlife and trail connections from northern San Diego’s Habitat Preservation Area to the western River Valley. The remaining phases call for an 84-foot wide Via de la Valle, raised 10 to 24 foot wide stamped concrete medians, turnouts and traffic signals.
Opposition from community and environmental organizations, dismayed at the loss of the river valley’s “pastoral” character and urbanization of a critical natural habitat, grew. This led to the creation of an ad-hoc Western River Valley task force in 2006 by then councilman Scott Peters. Members have stayed involved throughout numerous task force meetings; appeal hearings; revised, recirculated and updated Mitigated Negative Declaration documents claiming the project “now… mitigates the potentially significant environmental effects previously identified and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will not be required.”
Fast forward to April 2010 and a representative of the City’s engineering design team is presenting an alternative plan to the San Dieguito River Park Board of Directors. The new design coordinates all three projects and incorporates the Task Force’s recommendation to underground utility poles on the south side of Via de la Valle as it moves west along the restored lagoon. The roadways are reduced from 84 to 60 feet; roundabouts replace traffic signals, and a new single span culvert to better facilitate wildlife movement and trail crossings will replace an old culvert squeezed by three piers.
A full Draft EIR is expected to be released by the City later this year and the new plan will be included as an Alternative to the original designs in order to reduce the environmental and aesthetic impacts of these projects on the western river valley.
Shawna Anderson, San Dieguito River Park, and Jan Fuchs and Anne Harvey, Carmel Valley Planning Board representatives on the River Valley Task Force, provided information for this article.