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Median sparks discussion



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March 19, 2014
San Diego County's proposed removal of a median strip on Valley Center Road has many Valley Center residents in an uproar, including members of the Valley Center Community Planning Group (VCCPG) who worked long and hard to see the median installed.

"A lot of effort was taken by a number of people to get a median in," said Oliver Smith Chairman for VCCPG.

Five years ago, the original plan for the Valley Center Road upgrade from two to four lanes did not include a median intended to stretch from Woods Valley all the way to Cole Grade Road. VCCPG appealed to the San Diego County Department of Public Works (SDCDPW) for permission to include a raised planted median.

"It involved building the median and getting water in," Smith said. "The water there is purple-pipe water."

Considering Southern California climate, hardy plants were used for landscaping. Water was supplied for everything to take root. Afterwards the plants grow without using additional water.

Now the 650-foot median on Valley Center Road south of Sunday Drive faces possible destruction by SDCDPW as part of the conditions for the proposed Butterfield Ranch Development.

"We worked so hard to put this median in and with a stroke of a pen the county wants to take it out," said Smith.

Smith concedes the downfall is a hole in the process and determines changing the process is a resolution.

"Every time an issue is presented to the Planning Group it slows down the system," Smith said. "We meet monthly so it takes 30 days to respond."

Smith refers to the process as one bite at the apple.

"This is when you have one time to put a comment in – there is only one bite. It assumes nothing new. After that the comment can't be heard again," said Smith.

In a response to a recent letter submitted by VCCPG, Director of Planning and Development Services Mark Wardlaw responded favorably stating the department would be talking over the issue and getting in touch shortly with the VCCPG.

"A meeting will be set up within the next couple of weeks. That should be more than adequate a timeframe to address this," said Smith. "We'd like to work with the county on a positive basis to resolve this."

Smith views the solution as developing an intelligent, reasonable response as an alternative for DPW to listen to and consider.

"We will respond with practical, thought-out, reasonable solutions without bias. the county can take into consideration," said Smith.

The most recent response was issued by Gig Conaughton, Communications Specialist with the County Communications Office.

"The Department of Planning and Development Services is aware of the issue,"

Conaughton said. "It is looking into it and it is trying to arrange a meeting for everyone concerned to sit down and talk about it."

Lael Montgomery Chair of the Valley Center Design Review Board states the situation is not as simple as it seems. She views the controversy as a battle of visions and is very uncertain which of the two visions will reign. On one side is the County and on the other side, the community guidelines.

"Lots of people believe you need a vision for a town," said Montgomery. "The argument for a decade has been a massive contradiction between the community's vision for itself and San Diego Road Standards."

The Valley Center Community plan is a set of guidelines outlining fundamental design guides. It is context-sensitive in that the community vision is dependent on the context of roads. For instance, Montgomery sees a viable solution to the left-hand-turns dilemma, the reason for the median removal, as redirecting traffic to the next traffic light to make the turn. Furthermore, Montgomery maintains roads should reflect their surroundings instead of DPW Road Standards where one size fits all.

"If the DPW Road Standards get to everyone else, the vision will be freeways surrounded by parking lots," said Montgomery.

Montgomery concludes there are two different approaches to the design of roads: maintaining a sense of community and the county's planning view of moving cars in which DPW is interested in automobile capacity and how many cars they can move.

"It took a lot of people participating 10-12 years, hundreds of hours of meetings in favor of the median project, putting millions of dollars in it, why is the County taking it out," Montgomery said.

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