Editor's note: This article has been updated to include links to previous articles on the proposed reservoir.
Proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir
Several members of the Planning Commission last Thursday expressed concerns about the proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir project – both about the project itself, and that they have not been given an opportunity to meet with the organizers to discuss it. A joint meeting with the Planning Commission and the City Council was scheduled at one point, but was cancelled.
Director of Community Development David James said that staff had been “trying to get a joint meeting,” but added that “because they have a big consulting team, we didn’t want them to have to organize everybody twice. But then the council had some second thoughts about the perception of having a specific meeting for the city…”
However, a number of public meetings will be scheduled, he said, at which the project will be discussed in detail, so city officials decided to forego a joint meeting. Planning commissioners and councilmembers can attend, without concern of a Brown Act issue, James said. A list of meetings should be ready in early December.
Commission Chair Ron West asked about recreation at the proposed reservoir.
“For the moment,” James said, “they’re thinking it wouldn’t really have much of a recreational component.”
“That’s one reason I wanted them to come and talk to us,” West said, adding that he’s “not happy” that project organizers will not be meeting with the commission. “That’s awfully close to us.”
He also expressed concern that the water in the reservoir would be diverted from replenishing the city’s groundwater supply.
West also questioned where the dirt to build the 200-foot dam for the project would come from, and whether it would be trucked through town. He added that he’s been asking questions “for months,” and has not received answers.
Commissioner Eric Bendix expressed concern that the project “would now put us in a dam failure inundation zone, like a good part of Modesto is. This is gonna be a major issue, and it’s an earthen dam,” he said.
James pointed out that the impact on the area both during construction and after the project is completed will have to be considered as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Commissioner Titus Linares pointed out that the project will be built “at higher elevations than our city… It’s crucially important that we have a say.”
“The water filling that dam has gotta get pumped out of that canal,” Commissioner Lynn Apland said. “Del Puerto Creek, in 500 years, wouldn’t even fill 10 percent of what this project (will hold).”
I-5 / Sperry Interchange improvements
The community’s commuters and other travelers will no doubt be interested, but probably not thrilled, to hear the latest developments on the I-5 / Sperry Avenue interchange.
Because the interchange is outside city limits, Andrews explained, the county is the lead agency, and is working with CalTrans. The city is involved in the discussions, “and we push it along as best we can, which is a challenge.” The ultimate upgrade is in the Project Approval and Environmental Documentation stage with CalTrans, with some distance to go before permits for construction can be issued.
“The city keeps pushing… to get traction on that,” Andrews said, “and I don’t know why CalTrans doesn’t feel like that’s an emergency, when we have traffic backing up on the freeway. It’s slow going, but we’re working on it.”
Various alternatives, including roundabouts, were considered, Andrews said. “What has been selected is traffic lights at both intersections, widened ramps, additional lanes under the bridge and leading up to and around under the bridges. The remaining part of this phase is wrapping up environmental work,” Andrews said, but there are currently “disagreements between CalTrans and county and the city. CalTrans feels strongly that this could be a good habitat for an endangered salamander, and the county and city feel otherwise,” he said, adding that the concern must be addressed before the project can move forward.
Fee to be updated
James said that the city’s “fee mechanism” for this interchange and other roadway improvements that will be required by future development “has been out of date for a long, long time.” Planning staff and the city manager are working on a new fee protocol that will cover the I-5 / Sperry Avenue interchange, as well as the intersection at Sperry Avenue and Highway 33 and other future roadway projects. The increased fee would not impact smaller, infill projects, he said, “But a large project, like Palms Plaza and others that will be forthcoming; we need to make sure that these projects are paying their fair share.”
In response to Commissioner Apland’s question about a proposed starting date for construction on the I-5 / Sperry interchange, James said, “I don’t know if we’re there yet,” adding, “We’re gonna keep after CalTrans – we want to put them on the spot.” Staff has been trying to get a CalTrans representative to attend a meeting with the planning commission, he added.
“We’re handling a lot more than just our traffic, so they need to work with us,” West said.
The interchange upgrade project has been under discussion for “at least four years,” Andrews said. “Just the discussion about improvements that are needed has been three years.”
Andrews said that the city has been working with the county on an agreement for interim improvements to help ease traffic congestion, such as four-way stop signs. No start date has been given.
I-5 / Zacharias Road interchange
Andrews said preliminary work for the future interchange connecting I-5 and Zacharias Road is progressing, and that a draft EIR for public comments is expected sometime in February or March.
Highway 33 and Ward Avenue
In response to concern expressed regarding the confluence of streets and the railroad tracks at Highway 33 and Ward Avenue, Andrews said plans were in the works to “rearrange that intersection,” to make it safer. A draft EIR is expected in the spring.
The Parks and Recreation and Transportation master plans should be presented to the commission in late January or February, Andrews said.
Wayfinding sign program
James said that the contract for signage at the I-5 / Sperry Avenue interchange has been awarded to Graphic Solutions, located in San Diego. The sign is intended to make travelers aware that the Villa Del Lago travel center is “linked to an actual community,” as opposed to others that stand alone on the I-5 corridor.
Encouraging travelers to venture further into town, providing them with “opportunities to spend money” will be beneficial for the city’s economy, James pointed out. “There’s nothing better than bringing in sales tax dollars from the outside. The goal is to capture their attention, and bring them into the community. The goal isn’t to take business away from Villa Del Lago, but to let folks know when they get off the highway that there’s a historic downtown, a Walmart, grocery stores.”