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By Joe Naiman
Village News reporter 

Planning group defers recommendation on Sandia Creek Drive gate

 

Last updated 12/30/2020 at 12:36am



The Fallbrook Community Planning Group deferred a recommendation on a proposed gate on Sandia Creek Drive.

A 10-4 vote Dec. 21, with one vacant seat, continued the item until the planning group's January 18 meeting.

"I think there are too many questions that are unanswered," said planning group chair Jack Wood. "I think it's premature at this point to call for a vote."

Wood himself wasn't aware of a Jan. 7 virtual county meeting on the request for an Administrative Permit for the gate until that meeting was mentioned during the planning group meeting. During the January 7 meeting beginning at 6 p.m. county staff will provide information on the application for the gate and will obtain public feedback. The meeting can be accessed at https://bit.ly/SandiaCreek1 or by calling 619-343-5239 and providing conference identification number 761 745 347.

The questions to be answered include access for service delivery and for residents south of the gate for whom Sandia Creek Drive is the legitimate route to Temecula rather than a shortcut, gate operation in the case of a power failure, sharing of the gate code with non-residents, cost assessment for property owners, and use of private property for the gate and for turnarounds.

"It's never wise to enter into an agreement when you don't know all the details," said planning group member Kim Murphy.

The road maintenance agreement for more than two miles of private road was approved in 1989. Maintenance of the road is paid for by 56 property owners.

Residents of Sandia Creek Drive and Sandia Creek Terrace have requested the gate to limit access to the private road portion of Sandia Creek Drive to residents and invited guests.

"Our private road was never intended to support the volume of traffic we are experiencing," said Alma Carpenter.

Carpenter cited an average daily traffic volume of 3,600 vehicles. In August 2019 the county's Department of Public Works (DPW) conducted traffic surveys 3,000 feet north of Rock Mountain Drive on two consecutive days as part of the process for placing a seven-ton weight limit on the public portion of Sandia Creek Drive which became effective in November 2020. The traffic survey counted 1,830 vehicles the first day and 1,809 drivers the second day.

"The residents in their neighborhoods deserve not to have to pay for damage," said planning group member Lee DeMeo.

"The increased volume of traffic is rapidly deteriorating our road," Carpenter said. "We are also experiencing increasing accidents in both frequency and severity."

The road characteristics include grades of up to 21 percent and limited sight distance. Carpenter said that Sandia Creek Drive has had 44 accidents, including three fatal ones, since 2013. "The danger is extremely high. As residents we must use Sandia Creek Drive to access our homes. The cut-through commuters have alternate routes," she said. "We determined that a gate is the only reasonable solution."

Information on the proposed gate plan, including turnarounds, was provided to neighborhood residents. The property owners voted on a two-gate project which received support from approximately 80 percent of the landowners.

Support for the two-gate plan was not provided by DPW. "We were denied that by the county. The county picked out the location of the gate and the turnaround," said Rick Saathoff, who lives at the corner of Rock Mountain Drive and Sandia Creek Drive.

"Everything was picked out by the county," Saathoff said. "We didn't have any choices on that."

Notification to residents of the revised plans was by electronic mail, and some of the speakers at the Dec. 21 planning group meeting cited a lack of communication.

"We just learned of this whole process and a single gate," said Mick Gallagher.

"We've been kept in the dark on the details," said John Tomik. "We're not getting enough information to make us comfortable with the project."

Andrew Dale has lived in the 40200 block of Sandia Creek Drive since 1989. "They have moved this gate from the entrance of the community," he said.

"They put it outside my house," Dale said. "It is approximately 60 feet from my house."

Dale's 30-acre property includes half of the road width. "Our land goes to the middle of the road," he said.

That would put the gate on part of Dale's property. "The gate is outside the purview of the road agreement. It can't be approved through the existing road agreement," he said. "We have an easement on this road that does not allow a gate to block this road."

The turnaround would also use part of Dale's parcel. "That turnaround will involve the grading of our property," Dale said. "It will also involve removing a tree or two."

Dale also cited a lack of details provided. "We don't know what we're getting here," he said.

"We don't have any information on the cost involved on building the gate," Dale said. "We don't know who's going to maintain the gate."

Dale also told the planning group that there was no information about who had the ability to issue gate codes. Dale supports a gate to curtail through traffic but also has traffic from Fallbrook providing goods and services to his property. "We buy our propane from Fallbrook, we get our trash pickup from Fallbrook," he said.

"There have been a lot of misrepresentations," said attorney Deborah Zoller, who is representing the Gallagher family.

"A two-gate system was voted on," Gallagher said. "They need to go back and re-vote this."

The plan includes two turnarounds to divert through traffic. "One turnaround is 1.4 miles from the gate," Gallagher said. "Most people aren't going to pay attention to that."

The other turnaround is at Rock Mountain Drive. "You cannot see the elevation," Gallagher said. "If you're driving the county speed limit you only have three seconds to react."

Tomik noted that the area had to evacuate during a San Diego Gas & Electric outage. "Had there been a gate there it could have been a major disaster," he said.

Dale noted that guests might not be able to reach residents for the access code. "There is no or very flaky cell phone coverage," he said.

Zoller argued that the gate and turnaround are not covered by the road maintenance agreement which commits property owners to sharing in the cost to maintain the road. "The road maintenance agreement is solely for repairs and maintenance of the road," she said.

"The single gate is not what we wanted. We wanted a two-gate design," said Kelley Gerwig. "But we are desperate to control the out-of-control traffic on this road."

Issues involving road width and California Environmental Quality Act compliance made the two-gate proposal not feasible. "We just don't have any way to overcome those," Gerwig said.

"We would probably see some significant challenges to creating an accessible turnaround," said DPW traffic engineering manager Murali Pasumarthi.

That left the single gate at the location proposed by DPW as the only option. "It was not at all what we wanted," Gerwig said. "We've done everything that we can. We've done everything we've been asked to by the county."

Gerwig and her family were once involved in a collision which would have been a head-on crash had she not turned to the right to avoid a head-on impact. "I know first-hand about the dangers on this road," she said. "This is not just a concept to me. I've lived it, and it's terrifying."

Lauren Davila was raised in DeLuz. "This has been a year after year thing," she said of the accidents. "I've seen it first-hand. The gate is overdue."

The impediments to the two-gate plan include a deed restriction for Rock Mountain Preserve, which is managed by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, which prevented the turnaround from being placed there and using Rock Mountain Preserve land. "The county dictates that this is the best option for the gate," FLC executive director Karla Standridge said of the site north of Rock Mountain Drive. "A gate is necessary. I think we can come to an agreement as to the location of the gate."

Saathoff noted that he would be impacted by the turnaround. "That's part of my property also," he said.

He considers the use of that part of his property worthwhile. "This road was never built for the amount of traffic we have out here," Saathoff said. "It's a very dangerous road and you can't even go to your mailbox safely."

Sandia Creek Drive also has a Riverside County portion which is administered by the DeLuz Community Services District. Debbie Ardolino-Roberts is on the board of that district. "The priority is the well-being of the residents," she said.

"It's a matter of public safety," said Debbie Blackburn.

"We live on a very dangerous part of Sandia Creek Drive," said Juan Mendez.

"Our primary concern is the safety of our loved ones," Mendez said. "We need to do something to eliminate another death."

"It's time," Davila said. "It's simply cutting out the commuter traffic that are using our street."

"This is clearly a safety issue," Murphy said.

Pasumarthi noted that motorists not using the first turnaround and having to retreat at the gate are unlikely to repeat that route. "Eventually they will learn that there is a gate," he said.

The North County Fire Protection District has reviewed the application for the gate. "We don't have any issues with it," said NCFPD fire marshal Dominic Fieri.

A loss of electrical power will not prevent the gate from being opened in an emergency. "It's going to have the battery backup," Fieri said.

That battery backup will allow the gate to remain in an open position to ensure emergency access if the battery power is also lost. "If the gate is not operational for any reason, we must keep it open until it is operational," Gerwig said.

The gate can also be opened remotely by the North County Dispatch Joint Powers Authority (North Comm), although Fieri noted that such activity has not previously occurred in the county. "It's fairly new technology," he said.

The North County Fire Protection District will also have a key to open the gate, and the gate will also respond to strobe signals as traffic lights do. "It doesn't obstruct the fire department," Fieri said.

"Our gate will not delay any first responders," Carpenter said.

"This is a plan that meets all the criteria," said county Department of Planning and Development Services planner Nick Koutoufidis.

"The commuter traffic that is on Sandia Creek Drive should never be on Sandia Creek Drive," Pasumarthi said. "Mission Road should be taking on this and not Sandia Creek Drive."

Pasumarthi noted that the commuters using Sandia Creek Drive are likely avoiding Interstate 15 rather than East Mission Road. "East Mission does have existing capacity," he said.

The diversion of traffic concerned planning group member Jerry Kalman, who lives on East Mission Road. "If you start adding incremental traffic it's going to get worse," he said.

DPW estimates the transfer of approximately 1,600 additional daily trips from Sandia Creek Drive to East Mission Road. "That's a lot of additional traffic," Kalman said.

Carpenter noted that residents south of the gate would still be able to use the private section to travel to Temecula. "We're not looking to try to stop the neighbors from getting to appointments," she said.

 

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