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Developer Makes Unexpected Offer to Put Traffic Light Near High School

Proposed is a 100-unit apartment complex next to the busy campus.

San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo
San Juan Hills High School in San Juan Capistrano. Patch photo credit: Penny Arévalo

Seeing San Juan Capistrano Planning Commissioners were concerned about how future residents of a proposed 100-unit apartment complex could make traffic near San Juan Hill High School worse, a developer made an impromptu proposal Tuesday night to pay for a traffic signal near the campus.

The environmental review on the project, called the Rancho San Juan Apartments – planned near the intersection of La Pata Avenue and Vista Montana – concluded there wouldn’t be enough traffic generated to warrant a traffic signal coming out of the project.

But planning commissioners said “common sense” told them otherwise.

“Why do we have to wait for somebody to be killed or terribly hurt until we do something about it,” asked Commissioner Roy Nunn.

Even the city’s own senior traffic engineer, Alan Oswald, said he only visited the area once during the morning commute, and it’s a trip he’d rather not take again.

“It just takes too long to get there and back,” he said.

Seeing the concern, Phil Schwartze, representing the builder, volunteered to erect a traffic signal for apartment residents to exit onto Vista Montana.

Just to the east is the school's back access road, an intersection that had three major accidents when the school first opened, said Valinda resident Linda Davis, who later told Patch she got her information from an assistant principal at San Juan Hills. The school then forced cars exiting that access road turn right to drive onto campus, using a turnaround to head back to La Pata.

Cars are speeding to and from the school too fast for cross traffic, she said.

Clark Hampton, deputy superintendent of business services for the Capistrano Unified School District, said officials there still had major concerns about traffic snarls and safety.

“We ask that you take the time to make it right,” he said.

Because of the unexpected offer, the Planning Commission delayed its decision on whether or not to recommend the City Council approve the changes needed to accommodate the proposed apartments. Staff will look at what consequences – intended or unintended – a new signal on Vista Montana would have.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of the story had the traffic signal at the school's back access road. The signal would go at a new intersection exiting the apartment complex between that road and La Pata Ave. 

Lisa M Jones June 26, 2013 at 11:19 AM
It already takes 30 minutes to leave the campus when picking up students after school. With a traffic signal that can be increased by antother 20 minutes. Now that cars must turn right when leaving the first drive and go towards campus and around the traffic circle there is much less likelyhood of an accident.
Rachel Vollmer Pena June 26, 2013 at 11:34 AM
To even consider building apartments that use the same access as the school is ridiculous! We haven't seen what impact the new homes will have once they are sold. We have the largest incoming freshman class starting this September as well. We already drop off 30 minutes early to avoid being caught in the long back up. Find a way to fix the current traffic issues before adding to them.
Penny Arévalo June 26, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Vista Montana is a public street, not just for the school. The Planning Commission felt in a bind because most of the traffic is caused by the school, but it is the apartment developer that will have to pay for the fix. The City Council gave an initial approval for an apartment complex there in 2011. See http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/apartment-complex-at-whispering-hills-gets-initial-ok

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