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— At a December 17 Oceanside City Council meeting, councilmembers Jerry Kern, Rocky Chavez, and Jack Feller voted in favor of awarding La Mesa's Helix Environmental Planning, Inc. an extra $247,000 for an environmental impact report on the extension of Melrose Drive. The extension project, serving as an alternate north-south arterial road, linking Encinitas, Carlsbad, Vista, and Oceanside, has been stop-and-go since its inception.

The project, initially approved in 2002, was halted in 2005 because of environmental concerns and for potential impacts it would have on nearby communities.

Since 2005, the extension project has been the main platform of pro-development councilmembers Feller, Kern, and Chavez. The trio and many residents believe the missing link of Melrose Drive would alleviate much of College Boulevard's congestion.

In June of 2007, Feller, Kern, and Chavez awarded approximately $776,000 to Helix Environmental to prepare the environmental impact report for the city.

Since that vote, the city has held two public meetings.

One of those meetings is the reason why Helix is requesting more money; they only signed up to attend one public meeting, not two. Originally, the contract specified the contractors would have to attend only one meeting, but because of public concern for the project, an additional meeting last May was scheduled. Helix charged the city $5000 to attend.

Of the remaining $241,669 that was awarded to Helix at the December 17 meeting, $65,340 was set aside for time the company spends and will spend talking with city staff, preparing agendas for the city council, and reviewing monthly invoices; the environmental impact report will be completed in June 2009. The rest of the money was set aside for additional services, including many environmental reports.

A longtime opponent of the project, Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, spoke out: “The cost of this project would far exceed the benefits. It would save basically five minutes — zero minutes, in terms of public safety. I did get a couple of calls as well about this $241,000 and why it’s such a high amount. The understanding was that it was coming out of SANDAG [San Diego Association of Governments] funds, but it was not clear in the staff report where the funds were coming from. I still don’t know. I think this just does not make sense.”

“Just to clarify for the public,” responded project proponent and deputy mayor Chavez, “I would like to read some information and maybe it will help the councilmember understand what we’re doing here.” Chavez read the staff report that stated $1,000,000 was funded for the extension in the 2008/2009 budget and an additional $200,000 was funded the same year.

For more information on the rocky road that separates Carlsbad, Vista, and Encinitas from Oceanside, go to ci.oceanside.ca.us.

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