County makes room in budget for roundabouts planning

A rendering of a proposed roundabout at La Valle Plateada.

Funding for three Rancho Santa Fe roundabouts is finally seeing some movement at the county. At the San Diego County Board of Supervisors budget deliberations on Aug. 25, the board allocated $3 million toward getting roundabouts at the Del Dios Highway/Paseo Delicias intersections of Via de la Valle, El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada and El Camino del Norte shovel ready. The work will include completing the preliminary design and right of way acquisitions —it is estimated it will take another two years to have the project in construction.

The board approved a $6.4 billion budget on Aug. 25, an increase of 4.8% over last year which includes $100 million to address the COVID-19 health crisis. The county will be using reserves to cover budget shortfalls.

At the supervisors’ budget deliberations, Supervisor Jim Desmond requested expenditures totaling $16.4 million, including $10 million for the roundabouts, a traffic signal in Valley Center and improvements to the Buena Creek intersection in Vista—projects he said he has heard are priorities of his constituents and, in some cases, have been on hold for years.

“I’m usually a big defender of not spending reserves,” Desmond said. “However, I think we need to get the basics done as well as going after the coronavirus. We’ve still got an engine to run, we’ve still got things to take care of.”

The supervisors didn’t approve the whole $10 million amount but agreed to put $3 million toward the roundabouts. The vote was 3-2 with Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Nathan Fletcher voting against the inclusion of the projects in the budget.

“These are things that they likely wouldn’t spend money on if we weren’t going forward so I think this is a really positive first great step,” said Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager Christy Whalen. “We’ve been working hard to build a relationship with Supervisor Desmond and will continue reaching out to him as well as forging relationships with the other supervisors.”

Desmond said that the roundabouts are more than just a Rancho Santa Fe project as they would would provide regional congestion relief—thousands of cars idle at the stop signs on Del Dios/Paseo Delicias causing daily traffic back-ups. In a three-year period, there have been 32 collisions at the intersections where roundabouts would be placed. Roundabouts could enhance the safety of the corridor for daily commutes and emergency evacuations, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance regional air quality, Desmond said.

The Association’s long history with the roundabouts goes back about 17 years, when the Association first made the request to the county and contributed $125,000 toward a project study. The first draft of the environmental impact report (EIR) circulated in 2008, and in 2010 it was revised to include Rancho Santa Fe’s suggestions about lighting. To build the roundabouts, a few Covenant and non-Covenant residents will lose acreage and each landowner will be paid fair market value for the land.

“(This project) has been part of my career for my 15 years that I’ve been at the county,” said Sarah Aghassi, the deputy chief administrative officer and general manager of the county’s land use and environment group. Aghassi noted that starting in 2013 there was some back and forth as the community considered traffic signals in addition to the roundabouts.

In 2015, the Association board voted to support traffic signals after feedback at a town hall meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of signals. However, immediately afterward, a group of residents challenged the decision with a petition forcing a vote. As a result, the Association conducted a community-wide survey in which roundabouts came out on top as the preferred alternative.

The EIR was finally approved by the county in 2016 and since then the project has stalled due to a lack of funding.

Last year, a group called the Rancho Santa Fe Coalition sued the county over the approved roundabouts, asserting that roundabouts are not the right solution and instead proposed limiting both left and right turns at six different locations along Paseo Delicias. The lawsuit was resolved and the county’s settlement included a requirement that the county evaluate the alternative solution.

The turn restriction proposal faced pushback from residents and opposition from the Association board and it did not move forward.