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The San Diego City Council decided to approve the environmental review of a proposed park and road project in City Heights after initially rejecting the required study hours earlier.

The change of heart came when several council members realized that they would likely miss an upcoming deadline to receive a multimillion-dollar state grant to build a park in Fox Canyon if they didn’t have an environmental review approved by May.

Opponents of the road filed an appeal to city staff’s recommendation that the environmental impacts of the road and the park were minimal and manageable. It frustrated many council members that they were not supposed to comment on the emotionally-charged project itself but only the environmental document.

“I’m struggling to separate the issues,” Councilwoman Toni Atkins said.

After city staff told the council that it was unlikely that a new study could be completed in such short time, Atkins changed her vote which tipped the balance in favor of the study.

Atkins, Councilwoman Donna Frye and Councilman Tony Young initially voted to reject the environmental document because they claimed the city’s environmental study did not adequately address the impacts of extending Ontario Avenue through Fox Canyon to link to nearby neighborhood streets.

Council President Scott Peters and Councilmen Jim Madaffer, Ben Hueso and Kevin Faulconer also voted to ratify the study. Councilman Brian Maienschein was absent Tuesday.

City staff said the road will not get built with the tax-increment funding from the Crossroads redevelopment area unless the council, sitting as the San Diego Redevelopment Agency, approved the expenditure. Atkins said she would approve Tuesday’s proposal only if the road would be reconsidered in the future and only if a separate memo of the road’s impacts on the surrounding community would be taken up again.

Several residents from the Fox Canyon community showed up to the council meeting, mostly speaking about the park and road proposals itself and not the validity of the accompanying environmental document.

The room was divided: Many believed the road would help reduce traffic along the neighborhood streets but others thought that the street ruined the whole park project because it produced new pollution and blocked off access to Auburn Creek.

Read more about the Fox Canyon controversy here.

– EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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