By Karen Brainard
As the county moves toward a fall construction start date for the San Vicente Road improvements—a project that has been planned for years—hundreds of residents in San Diego Country Estates (SDCE) are stating their opposition.
Their protest is infuriating project supporters.
Some residents say they were not aware of the road realignment. According to the county Department of Public Works, it was first proposed in the early 1990s because curves in the road do not meet county standards.
At the request of SDCE General Manager Mario Trejo, staff from county Department of Public Works (DPW) gave a presentation on the road project during an Estates board meeting in October. Approximately 125 Estates residents attended the meeting, which led to a petition opposing the project. Four of the five directors of the SDCE board endorsed the petition. Secretary Maggie Johnson abstained from voting.
On Monday, Perry Jones, treasurer of the board, said 901 signatures had been received on petitions. Petitions were sent out with each homeowner’s recent association assessment. Jones said some petitions that were returned had more than one signature. He hopes to have all the petitions in by Jan. 15 and is trying to set up a meeting with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob whose District 2 includes Ramona.
“I think there are a lot of concerns on so many levels,” said Doug Kafka, president of the SDCE board. About 11,000 people live in the Estates, he said.
Jones said he knew of about seven people who voiced support for San Vicente Road improvements.
In his three years on the board, Kafka said he never heard about the road improvements and the county should have contacted the board.
SDCE resident Joe Cahak, who said he spearheaded the improvements 15 years ago, is furious.
“They seem to have gone brain-dead on all of this,” he said. “By denying this road standard, we’re literally locking us into this bad road for the rest of our lives. This is our one chance.”
Over 10 years ago, the board at that time unanimously supported improvements, said Cahak.
The San Vicente Road project calls for widening and straightening what are considered the most dangerous curves on San Vicente Road from Warnock Drive to 1,000 feet east of Wildcat Canyon Road. Plans include adding a 5-foot bike lane and a 10-foot pathway for hikers and horses. About 150 oak trees will be removed to improve sight lines, and the road will be designed for speeds of 55 mph but the posted speed will be 50 mph, according to DPW. Project design is scheduled to be completed this spring.
Those who support the changes see them as safety measures for an area that's been the scene of serious accidents in which many people, including teenagers and young adults, have died or been severely injured.
A Dec. 23, 1999, Ramona Sentinel article states that the SDCE board unanimously approved sending a letter to Jacob “to immediately take whatever steps are necessary” to make San Vicente Road safe. That decision followed the Nov. 8, 1999, death of Deviney Snider, a Ramona High School student who was in an accident on San Vicente Road.
Cahak said he has talked to parents whose children have been in accidents and they want the improvements. He has also contacted Jacob’s office and DPW.
One of the concerns about the project, Kafka said, is that during construction, residents were told they could expect waits of 15 to 20 minutes during daytime hours when one lane is closed, which he said would be inconvenient as well as unsafe for emergency vehicles or in the case of an evacuation. He added that a lane closure would have a residual economic affect as San Vicente Resort could lose golf and dining revenues.
Steve Ron, project manager with DPW, told the Sentinel that the county will try “to avoid any inconvenience as much as possible.”
Those opposing the project also do not want to see the oak trees removed, although Cahak said he was involved in setting up a tree mitigation program.
“To take down 150 old solid trees is quite a shame,” said Kafka. “It’s very much the flavor of what Ramona is to us.”
They also say straightening the road could cause drivers to speed more and question whether horseback riders would ride on a trail next to 50 mph traffic.
Although some say they didn’t know of the project, Ron said that in 2005 the Ramona Community Planning Group added the San Vicente Road project to its priority list and in 2010 approved the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which was then approved by the county Board of Supervisors in January 2011. Ron gave a presentation to update the RCPG on the project in July 2012.
Ron said the project will probably go to the county supervisors in June to authorize staff to advertise and award a contract for construction, scheduled for fall.
Total cost of the project, he said, is about $40 million. That includes $21 million in road improvements; $10 million for relocation of utilities from San Diego Gas & Electric, Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD), AT&T, and Cox Communications; and costs for right of way, design, and the EIR (see sidebar). Design and construction will be funded by transportation impact fees (TIF) and the TransNet half-cent sales tax.
As the construction period nears, Ron said the county will reach out to the public with project updates.
Kafka said anyone interested in signing the petition opposing the project should call 760-789-3260.