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The Little Road That Could Open a Floodgate

In Mission Valley, a road connecting a massive development to
neighboring Serra Mesa has raised fears about spillover of Mission
Valley’s notorious traffic problem.

A few new feet of asphalt road would be little more than a blip in Mission Valley’s concrete jungle, but these few feet have got community activists pounding pavement.

That’s because a proposed road would provide a connection between Mission Valley, notorious for its haphazard planning and traffic snarls, and the neighborhood of Serra Mesa just north. And that prospect’s got Serra Mesa residents worried the road would expose their community to a flood of Mission Valley’s traffic.

The road is little more than a connector, really. It would provide an entrance and exit to a huge, 4,800-home development in Mission Valley called Civita, which broke ground this month. When they build, developers have to offset the traffic impacts their new projects are expected to have on the surrounding community by paying for things like widening roads or building new ones.

The connector road is one way developer Sudberry Properties may have to do that if the City Council decides it should be built. Without the road, Civita would only be accessible through roads in Mission valley. If the road is built, it would connect the new development to Phyllis Place to the north, and provide a more direct route to Interstate 805 by way of Serra Mesa.

James Feinberg, a member of the Serra Mesa Planning Group, has been lobbying the city in opposition of the road. He and other active Serra Mesa residents see a slippery slope of continued development in Mission Valley increasingly affecting surrounding neighborhoods. They want to stop it.

“It’s really all about traffic. I can understand why they want to put that road in there. It makes sense for them to a certain extent,” said Serra Mesa resident Cindy Moore. “But Serra Mesa isn’t benefitting at all from this road connection. If you put another road in, you’re going to have more traffic, and more people.”

On June 14, the City Council approved $500,000 of the city’s annual budget to pay for a traffic study for the road. But the decision was controversial. The traffic study became a sticking point to passing the city’s annual budget, by the city charter’s deadline that day.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald wanted to restore fire services that had fallen victim to budget cuts and eyed the traffic study’s half-million dollars.

Then-Councilwoman Donna Frye, who represented Mission Valley, wanted to set the study aside, in part because Sudberry Properties had already spent $800,000 on traffic studies. But Republican Councilmen Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer insisted that the half-million dollars stay in the budget. Without their votes, the four Democrats couldn’t get a majority because then-Council President Ben Hueso and Councilman Tony Young were absent. The council’s Democrats had to concede.

DeMaio accused them of trying to remove the study from the budget as revenge for developer Tom Sudberry’s support for a local conservative group, the Lincoln Club.

“He’s willing to pay for a road, and the city of San Diego I believe has an obligation to follow through,” he said. “I don’t want to send a message to people doing business with the city of San Diego that this council is going to do a bait and switch.”

But Sudberry Properties has said it’s taken a neutral stance on the road. It could develop Civita with or without it.

“At the end of the day we told everyone we’re staying neutral and can go either direction,” said Marco Sessa, Sudberry’s vice president for land development. “We told the Mission Valley Planning Group and the Serra Mesa Planning Group that we believe the traffic mitigation plans established work under both scenarios.”

Attempts to interview DeMaio and Faulconer for this story were unsuccessful.

Frye, whose term ended this month, opposed funding the road connection study, though she said she thought fears over the road’s impacts might be overblown.

“I don’t think that that road is going to make the kind of difference that people think it might,” she said.

But she said the road could benefit other developers more than it would benefit Sudberry Properties. Because of the requirements that all new developers must offset traffic impacts, a new road paid for by Sudberry — a traffic pressure valve of sorts — could eliminate some of the expense for future developers in Mission Valley, she said.

And she opposes that.

When she was on the council Frye was a critic of further development in Mission Valley before the city updates the neighborhood’s community plan, its blueprint for development. The city lacks a comprehensive vision for how the community’s other amenities like open space will keep up with the pace of continued retail and residential development.

Before a decision is made on the road, the city will study its impacts on the surrounding community, and, to build it, will have to amend Serra Mesa’s community plan to include the road. Mission Valley’s community plan already includes it.

As might be expected, community groups in Mission Valley support the road. When they recommended that the City Council give the developer the go-ahead to build in 2008, the Mission Valley Planning Group did so on the condition that the road be included. Traffic has long been a problem in Mission Valley, and 4,800 new homes would surely make it worse.

Bruce Warren, Mission Valley Planning Group chairman, thinks Serra Mesa’s concerns are exaggerated, since the connector road would largely be used to make it easier for Mission Valley residents to access Interstate 805.

“They envision an insurgence of traffic through their community that, in my judgment, won’t happen,” Warren said. “I can understand the apprehension of a lot of people about the density of the development. The only way it’s going to work is if the city approves the infrastructure.”

Frye said the city should prioritize better planning.

“The Mission Valley community plan needs to be updated,” she said. “The money would be better spent on that.”

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

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