ENCINITAS — A long-awaited plan to drastically transform Leucadia’s section of Coast Highway 101 cleared a critical hurdle on March 21, as the City Council voted to approve the project’s environmental documents, permits and plans.
The council voted 4-1 to advance the project, known as the “Leucadia Streetscape,” including the environmental impact report, which required the council to adopt a statement that states the benefits of the project outweigh some of its drawbacks, including slower traffic along Coast Highway 101.
Mark Muir voted against the proposal.
Council members also decided to look for ways to pay for the project in a single phase, rather than in multiple phases as is currently planned.
The project will dramatically transform the stretch of 101 into a bicycle-, pedestrian- and transit-friendly enclave complete with six roundabout intersections.
Streetscape plans call for six roundabouts between A Street and La Costa Avenue, bike lanes, pedestrian paths and crosswalks, bus facilities, on- and off-street parking, and the planting of more than 1,000 trees to restore the street’s famed tree canopy.
At least 80 of the nearly 400 mature trees — mostly eucalyptus — will be cut down as a result of the project, but officials said the addition of 1,000 trees more than makes up for it. Those trees, however, will be a mix of different variety and sizes, meaning the canopy will look different.
The project has been in the works for a decade, and supporters said that Leucadia deserved to hear the council say “yes” after years of delay.
“Now is the time, it is time to bring this project to fruition,” resident Steve Camarillo said. “You are about to create a legacy; you are about to create magic.”
The project has been somewhat controversial and divided in terms of support and opposition mainly based on geography. A number of residents west of Coast Highway 101 spoke against the project, which they said would push traffic onto streets like Neptune Avenue, La Veta Avenue, La Mesa Avenue and Melrose Avenue.
“Our quality of life on La Mesa Avenue will be directly and significantly impacted by decisions made on the Leucadia Streetscape,” Christine Wagner said.
Doug Fiske, in a nine-minute rebuke of the project, pointed out that the project was different from the original proposal, which included two lanes of traffic in each direction and five roundabouts. The current iteration calls for a single traffic lane in each direction of Coast Highway 101 and up to six roundabouts.
Opponents pointed to the fact that despite the measures spelled out in the environmental impact report to lessen the impact of traffic along the corridor, motorists would still face worse traffic conditions than if the project weren’t in place by 2035. This required the city to adopt what is known as a statement of overriding considerations along with the certification of the environmental impact report.
Councilman Tony Kranz said he believed that the project would work because similar projects have been successful throughout the county.
“Lane diets have proven to work in the past in other parts of the county, there is an effect on the psychology of drivers, and we want to take advantage of that and do what we can to make it better for the residents,” Kranz said.
At some point during his speech, a person from the crowd interrupted Kranz, saying, “In 20 years we will be saying, ‘What were we thinking?’“
“In 20 years, our kids and grandkids will be enjoying the 101 and will appreciate the fact that we had the vision to adopt this EIR and continue on with this project,” Kranz responded.