Attempts by a group of Del Mar-area homeowners to block construction of a short segment of a proposed cross-county freeway failed Friday when Superior Court Judge Barbara T. Gamer ruled in favor of the city of San Diego and the state Department of Transportation.
Del Mar Terrace Conservancy attorney John Reaves had argued that the city and state violated state environmental regulations in considering only the environmental impact of the 1.8-mile stretch of the proposed freeway linking Interstate 5 at Del Mar to Interstate 15 at Rancho Penasquitos.
If the Del Mar group had prevailed, the city and Caltrans would have been required to hold up the freeway project and prepare an environmental analysis on the impact of the entire route, not just the western segment.
Reaves said Friday that Gamer's ruling was "not unexpected." He said the conservancy will appeal Gamer's ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
Reaves had attempted to introduce evidence showing that the freeway project, which has been in the planning stages since 1959, was segmented in order to split opposition to its construction and to speed the building of the eastern and western portions. A 2.3-mile long eastern stub connecting I-15 with Black Mountain Road is nearing the construction stage.
The western segment from I-5 east through Carmel Valley (formerly North City West) is ready for bidding but has been held up by court challenges. The center stretch of the freeway route lies within the city of San Diego's urban reserve and now has no state, local or federal funding.
Deputy City Atty. Les Girard and Caltrans attorney Jeffrey A. Joseph argued that the western stretch of freeway is necessary to serve the rapidly urbanizing coastal communities of Carmel Valley and Sorrento Hills along the freeway route.
Girard stressed that construction of the 1.8-mile segment to I-5 was necessary to prevent gridlock within the two planned communities and did not commit the city or Caltrans to build the entire route.
Most of Friday's five-hour hearing was a verbal battle between Reaves and Judge Gamer. Reaves attempted several times to introduce documentation dating back several years, reportedly showing that the freeway had originally been planned as a single entity and only recently segmented into the three projects because of difficulty in obtaining funding and permits to build the route through the city's urban reserve. The judge rejected the attempts.
In a 1986 referendum, city voters revoked major development plans in the undeveloped northern section of the city and decreed that urbanization proceed only after approval by a majority of the city's voters.
The 3.5-mile section of the freeway route traveling through the urban reserve now remains unfunded and unscheduled for construction. Developer contributions, which were expected to pay the major part of the freeway costs, will not be available until development restrictions are removed from the urban reserve.
Del Mar Terrace Conservancy spokesman Gerald Tracey said the group will continue to fight the freeway project because of its impact on the community and the neighboring Penasquitos Lagoon.
Still pending is the Sierra Club's suit filed last October that seeks to block a widening of Interstates 5 and 805 and the construction of the westernmost segment of California 56 and its connection to I-5.
The $160-million project, according to the Sierra Club suit, would do irreversible harm to the coastal wetlands and Carmel Valley. The suit was filed after the state Coastal Commission approved the massive widening of the I-5 freeway and the connection to California 56.