By Julie Thunder
In October of
Stephanie Kellar, an engineer for the City, said at the Council meeting “Starlight Drive is now private so this would be a substantial change in the way these property owners experience their property.”
The Starlight route was initially selected by Cardiff School District’s Safe Routes to School Committee. However, when the District met with opposition from the property owners, the District backed down saying they needed to study it further. The owners believed this to be the end of the issue. Months later the City put the project on the October Council agenda without notice to the property owners or to the school district, which spurred a flurry of angry letters. Consequently, District officials wrote letters of apology to several owners explaining the City was moving forward without them.
The residents say they are opposed to the City’s plan because (1) the City’s invocation of the IOD is not in line with the document’s original intent; (2) they were promised multiple times by City officials during the planning of ECP that a south gate would never be built; and (3) the route is not safe for children walking or riding bikes and cannot be made ADA (handicapped) compliant.
They have filed a lawsuit claiming that the IOD can only be invoked for ‘highway’ use and it does not mention ‘walkway’ or ‘partial invocation’. The lawsuit also asserts that if the City invokes the IOD they must take over the entire street, not just a narrow strip, which would encompass drainage, paving, and a sidewalk, raising the cost considerably.
Several residents from throughout the neighborhood say they were present years ago, during the park’s planning, when promises were made by members of the then city council and city staffers that a gate would never be built along the park’s southern wall due to the narrow streets, lack of sidewalks and limited parking on the residents’ side. Warwick resident Mitch Myers said “I’m not sure you understand how many hours we spent on the park development process. The City promised us – they did – that an entrance here was off the table and would never be done.”
The residents also note that although the City plans to make the Starlight path ADA compliant, there would be no ADA connecting routes as required by Safe Routes to School, because all adjacent streets lack ADA safety features and many are steeper than the ADA maximum of 8.3%. “That’s like building a bridge to nowhere – there will be no continued handicapped access before Starlight”, said Greg Hagen, a Starlight property owner.
Neighbor Kim Lande spoke at the October meeting: “Putting an entrance on Starlight adds volume and unnecessary safety risk to resident drivers and walkers on already dangerous streets. The infrastructure is simply not there and it’s not fair just to shave off 4-1/2 minutes for the few people walking from Ada Harris to Cardiff School when there is a perfectly safe entrance at Bach just down the road.”
The residents point out that most kids now are using the park gate at Bach Street and that a Starlight gate would shorten the distance between the two schools by a mere 2/10’s of a mile. Suzanne Hagen of Starlight added, “There is already a safe path to school. It has no blind corners, has sidewalks, has very few cars, has no steep hills, it travels through an existing gate at Bach. It already exists and it costs you nothing.”
The City’s position is that it believes it has the right to partially invoke the IOD without rebuilding the entire street. And the City acknowledges that it is difficult to create a contiguous Safe Route to School through this area, but is attempting to make smaller segments safer. At the October council meeting, Mayor Blakespear addressed the earlier council’s promise that a south entrance wouldn’t be built by saying “This is a really exciting project that will improve the biking and walking in this part of Cardiff. When you look at the whole park and you see the entrances, I think it’s an oversight that there isn’t already a gate on the south side. Now, the Council and staff are different and there is a changing perspective about what we need to do.”
Encinitas resident Darius Degher also spoke at the meeting. Although he does not live in Cardiff he is supportive of the path and park gate. He said, “I can understand the objections of the people who live on the street. But sometimes sacrifices need to be made by small groups of people to make it easier for kids to get to school. I think this route could be seen as a pilot project for more things like this within the city.”
Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath agreed with the Mayor and added “This is an IOD. We have a right to accept it. We are entitled to this.” Council members Tony Kranz and Joe Mosca also agreed and voted yes.
Mark Muir was the only dissenting vote, saying “I value park access but I also value an agreement. We made an agreement with the people there, and for me to change that agreement it would have to be a safety issue, and I don’t see a safety issue, in fact I see the contrary to that. So my position is ‘no’ because an agreement is an agreement.”