By Shawn Raymundo
The city’s proposed project to make Verdugo Street in the downtown corridor more pedestrian-friendly can go before the city council later this summer, as the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission on Tuesday, June 25 passed a resolution recommending final plan approval.
In a unanimous vote, the commission advanced the Verdugo Street Beautification project, which intends to widen the sidewalks of the street as well as implement a series of new landscaping, paving, lighting and street furniture.
Noting that many visitors enter the downtown district through Verdugo Street, City Engineer Joe Parco said the city’s goal is to create an “inviting and pedestrian-friendly design for residents, employees, businesses owners and visitors.”
According to Parco, the street would narrow from 40 feet to 28 feet, as the city plans to widen the width of the south-side sidewalk from 6 feet to 11 feet and the north-side curb from about 5.5 feet to nearly 12.5 feet.
“These improvements will minimize the conflict between motorists and buffer pedestrians from vehicular traffic to help provide a positive shopping experience,” the city stated in its agenda report for the Planning Commission.
During the meeting, Tami Wilhelm, vice-chair of the commission, asked whether the city had addressed Orange County Fire Authority’s concerns over the reduction of the cul-de-sac at the end of Verdugo from a 30-inch radius to 25 inches.
According to Parco, OCFA reviewed the plans and is OK with the turning radius.
Wilhelm also asked how potential bike traffic will be handled on the updated street.
“The main focus was pedestrian, of course,” Parco said, adding, “the sidewalks will be wider; they’ll be almost 12 feet on both sides, so it’s anticipated that ‘peds’ and the bikes could share the sidewalk.”
Adding a bit of humor to the meeting, Planning Commission Chair Howard Hart noted that in his younger days, when he aspired to be play in the NBA, he would run up and jump to touch low-hanging signs and lights.
“I noticed the lighting on the sidewalks hang down to no less than 10 feet high. What are the implications to moving that to 10-feet, 6-inches high?” Hart asked of the plans to install new lights along the street, which, he said, could attract youth to also jump to reach them.
Parco noted Hart’s comment, stating that he would have staff look into adjusting the height of those lights.
Commission member Harrison Taylor said that he was looking forward to moving the project forward. He also looked for assurances that the new benches being installed would include armrests in the middle to prevent individuals from sleeping on them.
Richard Fisher of Richard Fisher Associates, which put together the design concept for the project, told Taylor that the benches would range from 6 to 8 feet and each one would have middle armrests.
During the public comment portion, San Juan resident Robert Bruch said that while he supports the aesthetics of the project and believes in the intent to improve pedestrian traffic in the area, calling it long overdue, he questioned the practicality of reducing the street size.
Bruch noted the reduction could create a bottleneck of motorists trying to exit Verdugo onto Camino Capistrano, as the new street size would get rid of the left-hand-turn lane currently in existence.
The project could go before the city council for final plan approval in the coming months. If the council approves the project and directs staff to put the contract out to bid, construction could begin in the fall and be completed next spring, according to the city.
Editor’s Note: An abridged version of this story was published in the June 28 edition of The Capistrano Dispatch.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.