By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s roundabout discussion continues to go ‘round. A large crowd of about 120 people attended the Feb. 7 meeting at the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club as the board decided what its response would be to the county’s draft environmental impact report on three roundabouts proposed for Del Dios Highway/Paseo Delicias.
Due to the disruption the roundabout construction would cause to the community and with the knowledge that traffic on Del Dios has actually gone down in the past few years, the Association approved a motion to send a letter to the County Supervisors informing them that the Association does not object to the Supervisors certifying the EIR with the recommendations that the county reduce the diameter of the La Valle Plateada/Montevideo and the Via de la Valle/Paseo Delicias roundabouts and do a complete study of traffic signalization at those intersections.
The RSF Association board also voted to form an ad hoc committee to work with the county on traffic signal design as the alternative has never been studied or designed in great detail.
While the board had reservations about roundabouts, RSF Association Assistant Manager Ivan Holler recommended against the board not certifying the DEIR because it could potentially mean Rancho Santa Fe loses its seat at the table and have a solution “imposed on them” rather than remaining engaged in the process.
The large crowd expressed a variety of opinions, with a few in favor of roundabouts, and a strong opposition to roundabouts. Many said they would like to see traffic signals, while others said traffic signals would set a bad precedent in the effort to keep the Ranch rural.
The RSF Association staying involved and keeping the studies going to determine the best solution was also a viable option presented by residents.
“Drag your feet as long as you can,” said longtime resident Chuck Badger. “Send it back to the county so it can die a slow death so we can protect our community and not spend money on a problem that is actually improving. Don’t vote for the commuters, vote for the community.”
As Holler reported, traffic volumes have dropped by just over 24 percent on Del Dios in recent years. It peaked at about 22,000 average daily trips but dropped off with the opening of SR-56 in 2004 and managed lane improvements to Interstate 15.
There are, however, large cues of cars during peak traffic times in the mornings and afternoons that spill over onto local streets, a problem that the roundabouts propose to solve.
RSF resident Jack Queen said that the roundabouts are too permanent and big of a solution for a shrinking problem.
He said he felt the problem is already being solved by other things the county and city are doing. He said there was no need to rush and that they could wait and see how projects like the Interstate-5 widening, the Manchester on-ramp changes and the Interstate 5-SR 56 projects are completed.
“Our job is not to solve the county’s problems and especially not to solve it on Rancho Santa Fe’s back,” Queen said.
Many people in attendance at the meeting said they also believe that roundabouts would actually cause an increase in traffic.
As RSF Association Director Eamon Callahan said, “The easier you make it to come through the Covenant, the more traffic is going to come here.”
The three roundabouts are proposed at the intersections of Via de la Valle at Paseo Delicias; Paseo Delicias at El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada; and Del Dios Highway at El Camino Del Note.
The diameter of the roundabouts is 111 to 114 feet. Each would have a 16-foot-wide travel lane with a 12-to-15-foot mountable apron to allow larger trucks to drive on to get through.
The roundabouts would feature equestrian/pedestrian crossings with push-button activated in-pavement lighting to warn drivers. There would be additional lighting to warn drivers 400 to 500 feet in advance.
Construction could take up to 18 months with, at various times, traffic flowing on only one lane of Del Dios Highway and detoured onto adjacent streets. That impact was deemed significant and unmitigatable in the EIR.
Some residents said they liked the roundabout design and preferred them to traffic lights.
RSF resident Glen Oratz said that roundabouts don’t have to be a bad thing—he’s seen them used nicely in small European towns.
RSF resident Martin Wilson said roundabouts could define the Covenant.
“Let’s set ourselves apart from the surrounding communities with roundabouts,” Wilson said. “The public blows right past the historic Rancho Santa Fe boulders, with roundabouts people would realize that they’re in a special place, special to all of us here.”
Residents in opposition to the roundabouts expressed worries that the roundabouts would make the existing difficulty to get out onto the highway worse as the flowing traffic won’t give people adequate breaks to get out of their streets. Many said it would be “impossible” to make a left turn to the village and would be scary and unsafe for pedestrians.
One of the properties that will be most impacted by the roundabouts is the Village Church, which supports the RSF Association staff recommendations.
“Roundabouts encourage a continuous flow of traffic which is both a blessing and a burden,” said Don MacNeil, a Village Church elder. “The report tends to emphasize the blessings.”
MacNeil said that church property taken to build the roundabouts will result in the loss of about 23 spaces in its lot and all four driveways will be negatively impacted with egress and ingress made more dangerous.
The church must also incur a “myriad of costs” to repair its parking lot and retaining walls, redo its driveways and move dry and wet utilities.
RSF resident Rory Kendall said he was “appalled” that the church would be so impacted, especially with how much it offers the community.
“We owe the Village Church a lot, they have been wonderful to us for generations,” Kendall said.
Patricia Simmons, a homeowner on the corner of La Plateada, was also very concerned about the impacts to her property. She said the roundabouts will be 15 feet from her home, a new bus stop will cut into her tree grove resulting in the loss of about 30 trees, and she said her swimming pool would be at the bus stop.
“My house is going to be sitting in the roundabout, it’s going to be ridiculous,” Simmons said. “It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s not what our community is supposed to be.”
Simmons wondered why the Ranch couldn’t do something similar to what has been done in the Crest community of Del Mar, where they have “protected their community” by creating islands in their streets to deter cut-through traffic.
“If you don’t live or work here, you don’t belong on our roads,” Simmons said.
While the RSF Association will now take a look at traffic signals with its ad hoc committee, some in the audience did not like the signals as a solution.
Former RSF Association President Marie Addario spoke out against traffic signals, noting they had fought them in the past because they did not align with the community’s goals to stay rural.
RSF resident Lisa Bartlett said that the lights would violate the community’s dark sky policy.
Others argued that things have changed as the community has grown and traffic lights could help the current situation and be done in a nice way that wouldn’t impact the aesthetics of the community.
RSF resident Sam Ursini noted that the light at Calzada del Bosque hasn’t affected the rural nature of the Covenant.