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About a dozen residents attended the first workshop to garner input for plans to extend the River Path Del Mar. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
About a dozen residents attended the first workshop to garner input for plans to extend the River Path Del Mar. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Planning begins for river path extension in Del Mar

DEL MAR — Armed with recently received grant money, city officials are moving forward with plans to extend River Path Del Mar, an approximately quarter-mile stretch of land between San Dieguito Drive and the lagoon beginning at the Grand Avenue Bridge lagoon viewpoint.

The existing river path trail aligns from Jimmy Durante Boulevard to the coast and parallels the south edge of the San Dieguito River.

“The idea of an extension of a river path along the lagoon here has been bounced around and advocated for by the city and the lagoon committee for probably the better part of 25 or 30 years,” Jon Terwilliger, the city’s senior management analyst, said. “It could be even longer.”

Terwilliger was speaking to about a dozen residents who attended a Dec. 3 public workshop at the viewpoint. The meeting was the first of many that will be held in a short period of time to garner public input.

“As far as the design and the amenities … this is where it starts,” associate planner Joseph Smith said. “The workshop is designed to really hear from you. Let’s start the process now.”

There was consensus among participants that the design should limit uses to passive activities such as walking, bird watching and fishing, although the latter is not permitted in sections of the waterway.

Maintaining views is a top priority and creating a meandering path with some proximity to the water was suggested.

“I think it would be a mistake to just put a trail along the road,” one resident said.

Planning Director Kathy Garcia said there are no habitat issues or recorded nesting sites along the project site but there are a few areas of impact to some protected vegetation.

“We’ll need to mitigate that as we go through,” Garcia said, adding that some measures could be accomplished on site by restoring part of the disturbed habitat back to coastal sage scrub.

A detailed survey showed “a lot of mircrotopography,” Garcia said, with areas of divots and rises. “Some of that may be illegal fill from the past,” she said, but it provides an opportunity to create a very interesting trail system.

There were requests to limit the number of signs and trash cans, add wetland habitat and vegetation and integrate the history of the area. Resident Bill Michalsky expressed concern about erosion.

Rather than spend money on another viewpoint, it was suggested that funds be used to get rid of the trash and piles of concrete fill “that make this look like a wasteland.”

To encourage people to stay on the path, residents said rather than fencing they would prefer natural barriers such as large boulders. They supported a suggestion to add benches but opposed picnic tables as they could encourage vandalism.

Garcia said lighting is not planned. A proposal to underground the utility wires in the lagoon has been pushed out to at least 2017 because of “legislative issues,” Terwilliger said. The proposed roundabout at Jimmy Durante and San Dieguito is a completely separate project.

Although the extension previously made it as far as the preliminary design stage, until recently there was no funding.

The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy applied for and received in September $150,000 in grant funding from the county for project design and environmental review.

Another $70,000 in private donations has been raised by the conservancy.

The next opportunity to provide input will be during the lagoon committee meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Del Mar Library.

Input from the Dec. 3 workshop will be discussed. A project update is scheduled to be presented to City Council Jan. 20.

Staff will then apply for the necessary permits and begin the California Environmental Quality Act process in February.

If all goes as planned, construction could begin late next year.

“There’s going to be a lot of action in the early year,” Smith said. “We are on a bit of an accelerated timeframe.”

The grant funds must be used by September 2015.

Residents can also provide input online via the city website.

“We’re really looking for that which inspires people,” Garcia said. “It’s actually a beautiful, beautiful feature to our city that still has that wonderful, wild quality and quietness, and I think everybody wants to maintain that.