January 25, 2017 City Council Meeting.
This week we approved 5-0 the refinancing of our outstanding bond debt for the land for the Encinitas Community Park to save over $200,000 and reduce overall debt. Because we have followed good fiscal practices we received a bond rating from Standard & Poor of AA+ — the highest a city can receive. The current market predicts a net present value savings of almost 7% with a minimum savings of 5%. This is well above the prudence threshold of 3% for refinancing. I appreciate staff and our Finance Director Tim Nash taking the initiative to bring this to council and making sure we are saving where we can.
I participated in Mayor Blakespear’s challenge to help count the homeless in Encinitas, which determine funding levels. I joined up with the Community Resource Center’s (CRC) Rebecca Palmer (fuzzy picture shortly before dawn) and we counted in the Encinitas Highlands. The respect and training for this count was impressive (as was the 3:30 AM reporting time). It was insightful to see what the CRC is doing to collaborate with the city, the sheriff’s department, the county and other non-profits to address a truly complex problem.
THE COASTAL MOBILITY AND LIVABILITY WORKING GROUP (CMLWG):
On Wednesday, we spent a bulk of our evening discussing the rail corridor. This discussion is rather lengthy, so if this is not your thing, go ahead and jump down below. In the end we provided unanimous direction to staff and working group to:
- Evaluate a quiet zone for the entire corridor, including affirming moving forward with the quiet zone at Chesterfield and with the pedestrian rail underpass at El Portal as planned
- Look at the long-term plan for connectivity in the corridor, including trenching, design guidelines, additional crossings, esp. between Leucadia and La Costa Blvd
- Explore the best underpass in Cardiff, including one at Verdi
- Set up a best practice/lessons learned exchange with the City of San Clemente, the only city in the country to have received federal approval to quieter wayside horns (see below) for pedestrian rail crossings
- Include landscaping buffers and physical separation of bike lanes to SANDAG’s Coastal Rail Trail proposal on the 101 through Cardiff
Many thanks to Mayor Blakespear and the previous council for setting up a new approach to finding consensus in our community on controversial issues. To me the CMLWG, aka the rail corridor working group, represents a diverse mix of highly talented and engaged community leaders who are able to collaborate to make reasonable, educated and well-researched recommendations to Council on the rail corridor.
Quiet zone, please!
We spent a good deal of time talking about train noise: train horns, options for quieter, directional stationary horns (called wayside horns) as well as the process for a quiet zone. Since we are still in the “discovery phase” of the project, there are still a lot of unknowns: Do we need horns at existing vehicular crossings? Can we have a quiet zone throughout our city and if so, how much does it cost and how long does it take? How much will supplemental safety equipment (required by the feds) cost and what will be required? Can we use directional, quieter wayside horns for potential future pedestrian crossings?
The answer to most of these questions is, unfortunately, “We don’t know yet.” Those questions will be covered in depth between now and summer by the working group. What is important is to have accurate and complete information about costs so that the working group can make the appropriate recommendations to council. By inviting San Clemente to share their best practices and lessons learned, we will also take a big step in clarifying much of this uncertainty.
What we do know is that it looks like the Chesterfield vehicular and pedestrian crossings appears to qualify for the quiet zone with just over $600,000 in safer gates, medians, lights and bells, but without horns. I am hopeful this will also be true for the three crossings in downtown Encinitas and Leucadia Blvd., which will dramatically increase our quality of life, but we need to do a bit more homework before we know for sure. And the council gave unanimous direction to evaluate what is necessary for a quiet zone for the entire corridor as well as affirmed the quiet zone application for Chesterfield crossing and the El Portal Underpass.
Moving to a rail corridor vision
For me, the vision of the rail corridor is like a ladder, with pedestrian, biking and parking infrastructure on either side of the tracks. The “rungs” of the ladder are the crossings. But I am looking to the working group to really flush out their vision of the corridor.
The working group has some qualitative data to make some recommendations, but I think further qualitative and quantitative input on the location of these crossings is necessary, especially related to where folks actually want crossings. With regard to an underpass alternative in Cardiff, we provided funding the working group to be presented with the best underpass option, which may be at Verdi, rather than Montgomery. In addition, there has been little to no conversation about crossing location or type north of Leucadia Blvd, which is critically important for connecting businesses, residents and beaches. We provided direction to fill this gap, as well as discuss trenching (partial or entire). I am confident that this will result in a productive discussion about what is the vision for our rail corridor.
Design guidelines for the rail corridor
One thing that the recent images of the draft Coastal Rail Trail (CRT) through Cardiff on the 101 (I’ll link in a future newsletter) has demonstrated is that we don’t have a set of guidelines for our rail corridor to share with other agencies who operate in this corridor. Other agencies are not able to work from a set of standards we have agreed for our community. While we cannot force an outside agency to follow them, it does provide a constructive starting point for our discussion. It is my hope that a draft is completed as soon as possible to facilitate ongoing conversations.
As for the draft of the CRT through Cardiff, the plans are quite utilitarian by nature. Mayor Blakespear suggested including a funding option for landscape softening of that CRT segment in our budget discussion. I added the option to fund physical separation of bike lanes from travel lanes. It might be a slow journey, but with Mayor Blakespear on the SANDAG Transportation Committee, and through constructive collaboration, we will get to a place where this works for us.
For me I want the rail corridor to stay as natural as possible and include appropriate landscaping and public art and spaces. What’s perhaps even more important to me is that we use as little impervious surface as possible as well as physically separate bike paths. While the entire corridor should be aesthetically compatible, it can be very different between Leucadia, Old Encinitas and Cardiff and reflect the individual community character. We provided direction to the working group to come up with these design guidelines, including path material, width, landscaping, type of bike separation, public art, etc. What’s also important is to look at what type of trail/path would be acceptable through the entire corridor on the east side.
Council Member Joe Mosca and I with EDCO President/CEO Steve South and VP/COO Jeff Ritchie at their facility in Escondido. I was impressed by their forward-thinking strategy, focus on sustainability, minimizing waste, especially food waste, and fair business practices. They have 40 three-generation families and over 100 two-generation families working for EDCO! Thank you Steve, Jeff and Divison Manager Elmer Heap for the surprisingly inspiring tour!
EL PORTAL UNDERPASS
The El Portal pedestrian rail underpass is a vital element to safely connecting our business corridor to residents, schools to families and everyone to the Sunday Farmer's Market. Thank you to the parents, administration and PTA of Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, who have relentlessly advocated for this project. I’d like to give a shout-out to Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz for having the foresight to suggest a local match of $700,000 for the state grant which funded this underpass last year, which clearly made this expensive project possible.
One issue brought up by the Paul Ecke Central community was the inclusion of an intersection control evaluation for Union St. and Vulcan Ave. Once built, the mid-block cross walk across Vulcan is planned to be moved to Union Street (something we can do now, in my opinion). Currently the Union and Vulcan intersection doesn’t work well when school is in session and during the Sunday Farmer’s Market. Add on the dramatic increase in pedestrian traffic from the underpass, and that is a disaster waiting to happen. It was reassuring to learn that as part of the environmental clearance, a traffic study, the intersection of Union and Vulcan will be evaluated for intersection control options.
We approved 5-0 a contract for design and permitting that is estimated to take 16 months, which is a comfortable timeline: 5-6 months for environmental clearance; 5-6 months for authorization by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); and 5-6 months for the design phase which will include direct input from the CMLWG, Leucadia 101 Mainstreet Association and Paul Ecke Central Elementary School. The construction will take another year.
I suggested a number of ways to move this project along more quickly, but ultimately we decided that the council and city manager will keep very close track of the timeline to ensure that we meet or accelerate the timeline wherever possible. I’ll keep you posted!
Honoring our firefighters at the Pinning Ceremony on Thursday, January 26. So inspiring to see how these highly qualified public servants honor each other, their families and our community.