DEL MAR — Residents of a private stretch of San Dieguito Drive in Del Mar are working with city officials to bring the deteriorating, pothole-filled road up to local street standards, with many asking for urgency in addressing drainage concerns after 20,000 gallons of water were discharged down the road earlier this year.
While San Dieguito is one of the city’s main public corridors, city officials say this particular stretch between Oribia Road and the intersection with Racetrack View Drive is technically private with an overlying public easement. This places most of the burden for maintenance and repairs on the property owners themselves.
After nearly two decades of back and forth with residents, Del Mar officials are now working with them to bring the street up to San Diego County road standards. The upgrades and repairs will allow the stretch of road to be accepted into the city’s streets and roadway system and receive a regular maintenance schedule.
“The city is not required to maintain this road,” said City Manager Ashley Jones. “Due to a lack of proper maintenance by residents over the years, the road is in need of significant repair/maintenance. Given that that street has an easement over it for public purposes, the city has agreed to work with residents to better understand the current condition of the road, what would be required to bring it up to proper road standards, and the cost to do so.”
At its Sept. 6 meeting, the Del Mar City Council approved a $64,500 contract for an initial engineering assessment to identify the needed areas of repair, to be followed by an engineering design phase.
The total cost for the project prior to the completion of assessments is estimated to be roughly $2.5 million, according to the city. The city intends to establish a special tax assessment district to generate revenue that will cover the residents’ portion of costs, according to a staff report.
While residents were grateful to see the city take steps forward in the process, many argue that this portion of San Dieguito Drive is a public road in practice, since it must be used to access the public Oribia Road to the south.
Residents Beth and Reid Westburg, who have lived on Oribia Road for around 20 years, said that from their point of view, the city has historically not wanted to deal with the road, despite the nuisances and safety risks posed by the current conditions.
“This is kind of the backwoods of Del Mar,” said Beth Westburg. “It needs to be fixed. The biggest worry is that a fire happens in the canyon, and emergency vehicles won’t be able to come up.”
Many residents have also questioned why the city drainage system allowed thousands of gallons of water to be expelled onto the street in May of this year, which worsened many of the existing potholes.
City public works officials were able to turn off the water stream the same day, and filled a few of the potholes. While the council discussed the matter in closed session, the incident was not addressed publicly until the most recent council meeting.
Jones has insisted this event was not due to a faulty system, but the pressure relief valve being triggered as a safety mechanism in the drainage system.
“To our knowledge, this has not occurred in over 30 years. This is not a situation where we have a system that is frequently discharging water down SDR or is designed to do that as part of a normal practice. That was a very rare event, and it functioned as it was supposed to in order to protect homes,” she said.
This answer, however, has not satisfied many residents, including the Westburgs.
“It’s not just that this incident happened, it’s that the system was designed for all this water to run down the road,” said Reid Westburg. “They should either take this overflow system and underground it, or come up with some real fix for it.”
Just how much water flowed down the road has also been a point of contention. One resident received information through a city public records request confirming 200,000 gallons washed down the roadway, but Jones said this was an error in the city’s logbook and that the correct amount was actually 20,000 gallons.
At the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, residents pressed city officials to prioritize drainage work as part of the first-phase engineering assessment. However, public works officials insisted that it would be best practice to save any drainage designs until the second phase to coincide with other design elements.
“It’s never a good idea to design, say, drainage features now and then later on in another phase design the road geometry, slope or retaining walls,” said Public Works Director Joe Bride. “If you design the road later, it may not work with the drainage features. They need to be designed at the same time.”
Before the assessment can begin, city officials are working to ensure that they have all the information they need from the 14 title reports for homes in the assessment area.
The Crest Canyon Neighborhood Committee led the effort to gather title reports from neighbors within the assessment area, something which city officials said greatly moved along the process.
“Thus far, the Crest Canyon Neighborhood Committee has successfully secured the unanimous approval of the Phase I Engineering Assessment by the City Council and the support of the City Manager at no cost to the neighborhood and without the elimination of other options to [repair] the road. We are very much looking forward to seeing the results of the Phase I Engineering Assessment and discussing with our neighbors,” the committee said in a statement.
Some residents, including Westburg, informed the council that due to disagreements with the Crest Canyon committee about priorities related to the road, they would be forming their own representative body called the San Dieguito Drive Property Owners Association.