At last year’s California APA conference, conference-goers had the opportunity to participate in a number of Mobile Workshops that involved field trips to different locations throughout San Diego County. Brian Mooney, Principal of Mooney Planning Collaborative, and his associate, Megan Stone, led a workshop on Sustainable Planning in San Diego’s Coastal Towns. Thirteen participants joined Brian and Megan for a tour of North County’s coastal towns, including stops in the downtown districts of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Oceanside. The goal of the workshop was to introduce participants to the unique planning efforts of each city, with a focus on sustainability. As Brian explained during his introduction to the participants, sustainable planning doesn’t always need to be viewed in the context of reducing environmental impacts. While all four of the communities visited are committed to environmentally-sensitive design and the conservation of their natural resources, the true sustainability of their planning efforts stems from their attention to preserving the unique character of their individual communities.
The group’s first stop was at the corner of 15th Street and Camino del Mar in Del Mar. There, Adam Birnbaum, the City’s Principal Planner, led the participants on a short walk of the area, highlighting the many new sidewalk cafes. The outdoor seating areas are a result of a newly adopted Sidewalk Café Ordinance (No. 810) that creates a streamlined process for the review of sidewalk café proposals and makes the development of these cafes more attractive to developers and restaurant owners. The goal of this ordinance is to encourage the revitalization of the pedestrian realm in the Village district. The Village has experienced relatively little development over the past twenty years, primarily due to restrictive planning and zoning regulations. Additionally, the City is currently drafting a Form Based Code to further spur revitalization in the Village.
The group then continued on to downtown Solana Beach to the intersection of Highway 101 and Loma Santa Fe Drive. On the way, they passed a “reverse angle parking” pilot program being implemented by the City of Solana Beach in a few areas along South Sierra Avenue. Reverse angle parking is a new concept being introduced in order to increase the functionality of on-street angled parking. Reverse angle parking improves visibility for drivers exiting the parking space, which improves safety for bikes traveling along bike lanes, as well as for other motorists; it also makes it possible to load groceries or shopping bags into the trunk from the sidewalk, rather than having to stand in traffic. The City expressed satisfaction with the pilot program and claims that the citizens are catching on quickly to the new style of parking.
Participants disembarked at the Solana Beach train station where they were met by Solana Beach’s Principal Planner, Rich Whipple, and City Council member, Mike Nichols. Solana Beach has invested in a number of capital improvement projects in the past few years, including the Coastal Rail Trail that borders the eastern side of the 101, two pedestrian bridges that connect the Cedros Design District to the 101 commercial area, and Fletcher Park. These projects have improved upon the natural assets of the Solana Beach community and have created public places that anchor the City’s planning efforts. Participants also had the chance to tour the train station and view the only place in North County where the train tracks are below-grade. The group engaged in a lively discussion on the relocation of the train station from Del Mar to Solana Beach (and how that has impacted planning in both cities), as well as the challenges to improving the frequency of train service to
North County residents and making public transit a more viable option.
The third stop of the workshop was at the Pacific Station in downtown Encinitas. This 47 unit mixed-use development is nearing completion and will soon provide commercial, retail and residential opportunities. Located just one block from the Encinitas North County Transit District (NCTD) station, the project is seeking LEED Silver certification and provides an excellent example of a sustainable transit-oriented-development. The project developer, John DeWald, and the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association Executive Director, Dodi Tucker, walked the participants through the development describing their vision for the project and the steps taken to accomplish a relatively smooth permitting and development process. John explained that the project was designed completely in conformance with the Downtown Encinitas Specific Plan; therefore requiring no zoning amendments or special permits. Additionally, the project included a significant public participation process that resulted in the first floor retail space being contracted to a grocer (Whole Foods), rather than a pharmacy as originally planned, in order to satisfy residents’ wishes.
The final stop was at the Oceanside Art Museum in the recently redesigned City Hall complex. Oceanside’s Planning Director, Jerry Hittleman, and Principal Planner, Amy Fousekis, arranged a presentation for the workshop participants to introduce the revitalization efforts of the City and the recently completed Highway 101 Vision plan. Kathy Baker, the Redevelopment Manager, presented a slideshow of the numerous properties which have been redeveloped in the downtown blocks of Oceanside, as well as discussed future plans that have stalled due to the economic situation. In addition to their many redevelopment efforts, the City has recently completed a Downtown Highway Vision and Strategic Plan. Neal Payton, from Torti Gallas, the consultant on the project, presented highlights from the project and discussed the City’s approach to dealing with a project which covered an approximately 4 mile corridor. Rather than attempting to revitalize the entire corridor, the City has divided the study area into “nodes” where they will concentrate revitalization efforts, connected by avenues that have improved streetscapes.
The workshop highlighted the many interesting approaches the coastal cities of North County are taking in their planning efforts for their downtown areas. Each city is constantly looking for a means to revitalize their downtowns and accommodate new growth, while at the same time facing the challenge of retaining the community’s character and scale. The participants of the workshop were able to experience firsthand the distinct character of each city, while at the same time realizing that they all face the same unique issues such as view preservation, compliance with the Coastal Commission, and adjacency to sensitive natural resources such as lagoons and bluffs. By providing clear visions for future development and by investing in attractive public places such as parks and transit stations, these cities have managed to sustain both their unique environmental assets and their coastal charm.