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Council OKs golf cart use on streets

By Bianca Kaplanek
SOLANA BEACH — Puttering around town will soon have new meaning east of Interstate 5 in Solana Beach. City Council introduced an ordinance at its Nov. 19 meeting that will allow golf carts on designated city streets.
California law prohibits golf carts on public streets unless a local ordinance is in place. Additionally, the designated roadways must have a speed limit of 25 mph or less and provide access or be adjacent to a golf course.
The east side of Solana Beach is essentially a golf course community. Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s Department notified city officials that many residents in that area were illegally driving their golf carts on streets and sidewalks. Working in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department, city staff met with homeowners associations and the golf course community to ensure that golf cart users were acting within the law. A public workshop was held in October for additional resident input. The project was reviewed by the Public Safety Commission and Technical Traffic Advisory Committee.
According to the staff report, “Every effort was made to accommodate the majority of the city’s golf cart users.” When the process started, golfers were upset that they would have to pay a permit fee to operate their carts on city streets. Others learned they would have to take longer routes to the course because streets they had been using were not considered safe for cart use.
“At first there was a lot of emotion,” resident Tom Boardman said. “I think what the city has come up with is absolutely as much as any of us expected, and in many areas better than what we expected. I really appreciate that.
“I think you’ve done just exactly the right thing for our golf course community,” Boardman told council members.
“What started as a very contentious issue turned out to be a real win-win for the community,” Mayor Dave Roberts said.
All of the 53 streets — or portions of them — that were designated for golf cart use are within one mile of a golf course. To comply with state law, the speed limit on some streets will be reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph. Golf carts cannot be driven on sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian paths or state highways.
Users will be required to have a valid California driver’s license, liability insurance and a city-issued permit displayed on the cart.
Permits will cost $20 and must be renewed annually, although a renewal fee has not yet been set. Funds will be used to offset the estimated $23,000 necessary for administrative and enforcement costs.
Golf carts cannot be driven one-half hour before sunrise or after sunset. Some routes will require the carts to cross streets with speed limits greater than 25 mph, so the city must establish new crossing zones. The street being crossed must be immediately adjacent to the golf course and the speed limit cannot exceed 45 mph.
Currently, carts are allowed to cross Highland Drive 50 feet east of San Andres Drive and at Via La Senda. They may also cross Las Banderas Drive north of San Andres. The ordinance will add two new zones to cross San Andres — another one at Highland and one at Ladera Linda.
A permit will not be required for carts that use designated crossings exclusively.
Signs identifying where and when carts are allowed and prohibited will be posted. Violators will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for each additional infraction within a 12-month period.
Once adopted by the city, the ordinance must be reviewed and approved by the Sheriff’s Department before it goes into effect. Eastside residents will be notified by mail when that happens.
Although the Sheriff’s Department was involved in creating the ordinance, Councilman Tom Campbell still had concerns about safety and liability. Mo Sammack, the city engineer, and law enforcement officers said all routes had been thoroughly reviewed and evaluated for safety before being designated.
“I’m just making sure here,” Campbell said. “We want to try to accommodate everybody but we also have to protect ourselves.”
“We worked really hard looking at each one of the streets on this map and each one of the crossings and considered all the safety problems,” Sgt. Randy Webb said. “The plan, as proposed, satisfies my concerns for safety for this community.”
Low-speed electric vehicles, although similar to golf carts, are governed by a separate set of state laws and do not fall under the new ordinance. Those vehicles, which must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, are required to have a license and safety equipment such as lights, a windshield, wipers, blinkers and bumpers. They may be driven on roadways where the speed limit is 35 mph or less and do not require a city permit.
Once the ordinance is in effect, the city plans to hold a few registration days in the eastern portion of the city so golfers can get permits without having to drive to City Hall, City Manager David Ott said.