By Louis Rodolico
How is the Regents Road Bridge or any new infrastructure paid for? The city of San Diego collects development impact fees as it approves additional development, and developers paid fees back in the 1960s to build the bridge.
There is a bitter community dispute over completing the bridge. While the two factions in the University City community square off like the Hatfields and McCoys, projects like the expansion of Westfield UTC continue unabated. This particular expansion includes a new 22-story, 300-unit apartment tower at Nobel and Genesee, one of the most congested intersections in the region.
How can Westfield expand without the planned roads? In 2008 each, property in the area was assigned a specific number of vehicular “trips.” Westfield acquired an entitlement in 2008 to expand the mall, before there was any proposal to remove the Regents Road Bridge from the plan, so the extra trips were grandfathered in at that time. The city is keeping its promise to Westfield, but not to those who paid for and who were promised the Regents Road Bridge. We are removing roads but we are not correspondingly lowering trips. Ergo we get the unplanned excessive traffic with its added deaths, injuries, extended emergency-travel times, greenhouse gas emissions and property losses.
What is the bridge status now? The Westfield-financed Existing Conditions Environmental Impact Report was released in December 2015. When I called the engineer who was the author of the EIR, he could not get off the phone fast enough. The EIR was not stamped, nor signed by the engineer. The long-awaited report was a position paper; it has no legal standing. This threw gasoline on the issue. The community presentation of the EIR was a bust: the engineer took some questions but without graphics, not much was communicated. The final EIR is scheduled for July 2015.
Let’s look at what could happen if the Regents Road Bridge is taken off the plan. Eventually the existing bridge abutments would be removed and the area rezoned residential. New homes would be built, eliminating any possibility of a bridge in the future. At some future point after that, traffic will be much greater than it is now. A new (Westfield financed?) EIR will likely show a need for six or eight lanes on Genesee between Westfield UTC and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.
Westfield shares the same goal with a few dozen Regents Road property owners. These owners seek to improve their properties’ marketability and views by not building the Regents Road Bridge. Westfield would like to see Genesee widened to bring in more shoppers. This leaves over 30,000 residents in UTC, University City and Clairemont at elevated mortal risk due to longer emergency travel times.
Like other communities with uncompleted roads, ambulances are delayed. When an ambulance arrives on scene and finds a patient without a pulse, they may have to wait until they get to an emergency room to revive the patient. When roads are not available patients, including children, can expire in route as a direct result of the delay. Is this the marketing image Westfield wants?
Why was the trolley Blue Line designed to terminate at Westfield UTC? Granted the Westfield transportation center has been on Genesee for years, but not because it is the best location — it is there because Genesee was the only one of the three north-south roads that was completed. The obvious solution to mass transit is to complete the regional rail system by placing the Coaster and Surfliner just east of I-5 at UTC. This would allow for a transit center at Nobel or Voigt.
The Coaster and Surfliner would bring in commuters from downtown to north of Los Angeles. Rerouting the Coaster/Surfliner shortens the current route, requires 3.3 miles of new double track (mostly underground) but utilizes existing trains, power systems and employees. In contrast the Blue Line extension requires we pay for two new 11-mile double tracks, bridges, tunnels, new trolleys, power systems and all the additional equipment and employees necessary to run the extended line. In November SANDAG will be asking for additional taxes.
I for one try and keep myself informed on what is going on in my community, but all too often by the time I get a description of a project it is already too late to have any discussion. Like the Westfield residential tower or the University City fire station locations. By the time a project comes into the light, it’s “shovel ready” and too late for community input. Or bulldozers just appear without anyone including the planning group being informed. These “dark projects” are becoming the norm not the exception.
Who has time to be on every committee? That simply is not realistic. Westfield and others have been at work for decades and reveal a new project to the public when it is too late for the public to have a say.
Louis Rodolico is a candidate for the District 1 City Council seat and has been a resident of district since 2001
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