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North City West Plans Petition Drive to Detour Route 56 to the South

TIMES STAFF WRITER

North City West homeowners are making down payments of $100 and more on a plan to keep a major east-west freeway from bisecting their community.

At a meeting earlier this week, Jerry Mailhot, leader of the Carmel Valley Coalition, unveiled plans for a referendum petition drive designed to force the San Diego City Council to rescind its approval of the western State Route 56 alignment through Carmel Valley or to put the issue to a citywide vote.

Route 56, which has been in state Department of Transportation construction plans for more than two decades, is proposed to link with coastal Interstate 5 at Carmel Valley Road east of Del Mar. The City Council adopted the westerly end of the freeway alignment May 8 after heated opposition from residents of surrounding upscale communities in North City West, Carmel Valley and Del Mar Heights.

The City Council was scheduled Monday to give final approval to the ordinance setting the Route 56 alignment through Carmel Valley but Mailhot protested that the two conditions of approval ordered by the council had not been included in the action. So the ordinance passage was postponed for two weeks.

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“That buys us time,” Mailhot told a group of concerned North City West homeowners Monday night. The referendum petition drive cannot begin until the ordinance is adopted by the council, probably on June 4, he said. After that, the coalition has 30 days in which to gather at least 35,000 signatures.

The coastal suburbs near Del Mar have been fighting the freeway alignment for several years, arguing that the alignment should be moved to the south along the Carmel Mountain Road alignment. Such a route would be shorter, less expensive and would not disrupt residential neighborhoods along Carmel Valley, the coalition leaders claim.

Mailhot, who is also a member of the North City West Planning Board, told residents that they must ante up donations to the Carmel Valley Coalition to finance the hiring of a professional signature-gathering firm which would supplement volunteer petition circulators to reach the petition goal.

“We are bringing in donations at the rate of $1,000 a day,” Mailhot said. He estimated that the group needed $35,000 to $45,000 to mount the referendum challenge.

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If the coalition succeeds in gaining the required number of signatures on its referendum petitions, the San Diego City Council will be forced to rescind the ordinance setting the Route 56 alignment or order the issue placed on the ballot for a citywide vote.

The biggest problem with the referendum, coalition leader Jan Fuchs said, “is that it will be perceived as a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issue.”

The new freeway, which will link inland I-15 with coastal I-5 and I-805 to San Diego, “will have ripple effects all up and down the coast” on traffic volumes, Fuchs said. Additional traffic on the already crowded coastal freeways would result from construction of the cross-county freeway, Fuchs said.

Mailhot said that a route over Del Mar Mesa to the south of Carmel Valley would avoid the sensitive wetlands in the valley and the lagoon and would avoid the noise and pollution that a major roadway would bring to developed sections of North City West.

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