Construction of traffic circles designed to slow the flow on the narrow back streets of Del Mar began Wednesday morning, but work was halted a few hours later when an angry resident obtained a temporary restraining order.
In response to a legal challenge from Del Mar resident Al Carsten, Superior Court Judge Kevin Midlam issued the order stopping work on the $300,000 city project and set a hearing for Friday on an extension of the ban.
Sam Brown, whose legal firm is representing Carsten in the action, said the goal is to force the city to place the issue of the traffic-restricting structures on the ballot.
Carsten and his wife, Arlene, a former Del Mar councilwoman and mayor, led a drive to gather enough signatures to bring the traffic circle project to a vote. But the City Council has refused to take that action, saying the project is not a proper matter for an initiative petition.
The council awarded the bid for installation of 16 traffic islands, despite protests from the Carstens and other Del Mar residents who signed the petition. Work crews began tearing up streets with jackhammers and bulldozers Wednesday morning, and the Carstens' attorneys went to court Wednesday afternoon.
Dwight Worden, a former Del Mar city attorney hired to represent the city in the dispute, said Wednesday that the Carstens contended that the traffic islands violate the state Motor Vehicle Code. However, Worden said, "it is up to the city of Del Mar how they want to regulate traffic in the community."
He said that the traffic circles might increase the city's liability if accidents occur because of the barricades, but that city officials felt the resulting slowdown of autos through residential areas was worth the added risk.
The Carstens' initiative petition called for placing an "integrated traffic management plan" on the city's April ballot. One proviso of the plan would be the cancellation of any traffic projects approved after Nov. 5, 1990, including the traffic island project.
Al Carsten said the proposed oversize islands and raised berms are "like something from Merry Melodies or Looney Toons" cartoons, adding, "It's something you'd expect from the Republic of Del Mar."
In a deposition given to the Carstens' lawyers by Martin Bouman, a retired traffic engineer for the city of San Diego, the traffic circles would illegally restrict the narrow and winding residential streets.
City officials say the traffic islands and berms are designed to slow speeders who now use the seaside community's winding back streets to reach the beach or nearby racetrack.
The project calls for concrete traffic circles to be installed at some intersections along Crest Road, Via Alta and 15th Street.