Councilman Ed Spriggs said the idea gave him chills and called it “almost a dream come true.” A Seacoast Drive property owner called it transformational.
But Mayor Jim Janney hesitates to call it the “end all” for Imperial Beach.
The subject was street lighting, and much light was shone on various proposals at a Jan. 30 workshop meeting of the City Council.
With a few months to go before the new Pier South hotel opens, the Imperial Beach City Council heard suggestions on how to improve the street from land planning and design specialists.
The presentation by Lawrence Thornburgh of Nasland Engineering and Patrick O'Connor with the urban design firm Parterre focused on pedestrian-scale lighting.
The consultants also suggested the city consider things like small parks on the street, gateway signs and other additions to give Seacoast Drive life, vitality and a unique identity during the day and after dark.
City Councilmembers asked the consultants to continue to work with the city to bring pedestrian-scale lighting proposals to City Council in the future.
Lighting on the waterfront streetscape has been an issue of discussion and contention for City Council for the past year.
Supporters have called the lighting vital to the success of the new hotel and the city's future and necessary to attract new businesses while detractors like Mayor Jim Janney say the street just got new lighting and other parts of the city need to be considered.
Like the Cedros Design District in Encinitas or Little Italy downtown, a special district needs a combination of street lighting for cars, lights for people walking and special event lighting like lights on palm trees in Pier Plaza, O'Connor said.
"You do have some of that on Seacoast, but maybe not enough," he said.
Nasland Engineering have been awarded contracts worth near $350,000 in redevelopment funds since 2007, according to city documents.
Thornburgh and O'Connor suggest the city install 13 pedestrian-scale lights for a test run from Date to Evergreen avenues. Thornburgh estimates the lights will cost roughly $100,000 to purchase and install.
Pedestrian-scale lighting from Old Palm Avenue and down Seacoasdt Drive to Elder Avenue could cost anywhere between $200,000 and $350,000, he said.
Last year the city paid to have new lights installed on Seacoast Drive. The number of lights on the street were increased from 22 to 34 and reduced in height from 30- to 24-feet.
Before new sheppard's hook style posts and lights were installed, members of the Seacoast Drive stakeholder group–the Seacoasters–and Pacifica Companies, owner of the new hotel, urged the city to consider pedestrian-scale lighting at a meeting last March but the idea was rejected in a 3-2 vote.
Councilmembers Lorie Bragg and Ed Spriggs, both members of the Seacoasters, voted in favor of pedestrian-scale lighting.
Among multiple options presented to City Council at the time, Public Works Department director Hank Levien estimated that installing 40 solar panel lights would cost roughly $100,000.
A solar option was not considered in analysis of Seacoast lighting by Nasland Engineering, Thornburgh said.
Some opposed the idea due to concern that redevelopment funds slated to pay for the lights could be rejected by the state. Mayor Jim Janney opposed the idea of investing more money in the waterfront without first considering other parts of the city.
“As many know, I don’t consider Seacoast the end all for all of Imperial Beach. I still worry about those folks that live to the east side of 9th Street. And from that standpoint, I’m having a hard time doing it," he said last March.
The street needs more points of light to attract the eye of drivers and pedestrians, Thornburgh said.
"What you have on Seacoast now are tall lights which are very energy efficient and they're great and they throw light down the street but they don't catch your eye cause you can't see the light source.
"The goal is to get light where you can see the bulb. You want to see the light source," Thornburgh said. "We think something that you can see the bulb would be an asset to Seacoast Drive."
Among other recommendations made by the consultants, O'Connor suggested the city install mini parks at the corner of Palm Avenue and Elwood Avenue on Seacoast Drive.
"In Little Italy I've never really seen anyone sitting in these things, but nonetheless when you drive by or you're walking by, you begin to say to yourself: 'Oh that's really kind of special. What a great caveat,'" he said.
Mini parks or parklets would require working with the Port of San Diego, said City Manager Gary Brown.
To increase the street's identity and branding opportunities, Thornburgh and O'Connor also recommend Seacoast Drive get a landmark sign and possibly adopt a new name like the Seacoast Esplanade.
IB Patch asked readers what they think of the idea of a landmark or gateway sign on Seacoast Drive or elsewhere in Imperial Beach. Click here to view results or vote.
Gateway signs or some kind of landmarks could be installed at the corner of Palm Avenue and Elkwood on Seacoast Drive and act as book ends for the start and finish of a Seacoast Esplanade and help make the area a unique place people want to visit, O'Connor said.
"When you come down Palm and you hit Seacoast now, there's nothing really noticeable either via lighting or a gateway sign or just a place to gather and sit," he said.
No cost estimates for a landmark sign or parklets were offered.
The new hotel and look of Seacoast Drive should be part of a general marketing campaign to tell other parts of San Diego about exciting things happening in IB, Thornburgh said.
"I think kind of getting out some marketing or public PR work on ... really, the hotel opens, let it be known, the hotel is open, there's restaurants here," Thornburgh said.
"You have to get the word out to the rest of the community–Chula Vista, National City. Kind of market Seacoast Drive so people come down to the area," he said.
The most outspoken member of city government in favor of pedestrian-scale lighting Councilman Ed Spriggs said the presentation gave him chills.
"This has been almost a dream come true. I've been waiting almost two years since I've been on council to have an opportunity to see some broader vision and ideas of what Seacoast Drive could actually look like," he said.
Councilmembers Lorie Bragg and Bobby Patton and Mayor Jim Janney also called the presentation thorough and insightful.
Over the years local governing bodies have made changes to the waterfront commercial district like adding art at Seacoast Drive street ends and the creation of Portwood Pier Plaza by the Port of San Diego.
For its part, the Imperial Beach Redevelopment Agency worked to enhance the area with the facade improvement program and various street improvements.
More recently, crosswalks with wave designs were installed and palm trees in Pier Plaza were lit by Thornburgh's company Nasland Engineering.
In preparation for the new hotel detailed short- and long-term plans were put together by city staff to unify the business community, beautify the area and carry out a marketing strategy. The plans were turned down due to a lack of funding.
A marketing contract the city had with the public relations firm Che was canceled to save money last June.
Bob Miller owns property on Seacoast Drive, leads the Seacoasters and has been a major supporter of pedestrian-scale lighting.
"I don't think anyone can really imagine the impact of this until we really see it," he said about the hotel and possible new lighting.
Seacoast could be world-class, Miller said, but he encouraged the consultants to take a look at traffic on the street at night.
"It's dead. You drive down the street at night this time of year and there's just no activity," Miller said. "What you're proposing here has the possibility of just totally transforming this into something unique where people really want to get there."
What do you think about current lighting on Seacoast Drive? Is it sufficient or in need of improvement? Do you want Seacoast Drive to be more active at night? Share in comments.