Many University City residents want the city to repair their roads. Debbie Knight’s highest priority, however, is stopping the construction of a new one across Rose Canyon.

The battle stretches back decades and last came before the City Council in 2006. Knight and other environmental advocates stalled the project through lawsuits, but the heated debate continues to simmer among residents today.

I’m spending the week in City Council District 1 to find out what matters to residents and put their issues to the City Council candidates.

The bridge is one of University City’s most divisive issues. Here, traffic concerns are king and some view the proposal as an avenue to relieve congestion and make their streets safer. The long-standing problem, most residents say, is traffic along the neighborhood’s main north-south thoroughfare, Genesee Drive.

The street parallels Interstate 805 through the middle of the neighborhood and provides the only way across Rose Canyon. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, residents say Genesee Drive becomes an unbearable bottleneck and a dangerous crossing for pedestrians.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Debbie Knight, executive director of Friends of Rose Canyon, explains what could happen to the land.

But Knight continues to argue the bridge is unnecessary and would come at too great of cost. The city’s already spent millions studying the proposal and Knight said it was last estimated to cost $37 million to build.

Knight moved to University City in 1998 and said Rose Canyon became her sanctuary for exercise and exploring nature. During a tour of the canyon Tuesday, she pointed out her favorite tree (a sycamore) and identified different species of birds, plants and other wildlife.

At one point, Knight threw back her arms and stopped me and photographer Sam Hodgson from taking another step along the baking dirt path. We didn’t hear the rattlesnake but Knight noticed it slithering through an outcropping of shadows.

“That’s the first one I’ve seen this year,” she said. “It’s so cool when people come here and get to see all this nature.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson
A rattlesnake passes through Rose Canyon.
Photo by Sam Hodgson
Debbie Knight

Knight highlighted a few possible changes she’d like to see at the park. Its hillsides are speckled with invasive species like mustard and radish that transform into dead sticks during the hot summer months, and a railway runs through its valley.

“It’d be nice if someday they could remove the train,” Knight said, but then emphasized, “The top priority is do no more damage.”

Other residents, though, worry about safety. At the intersection of Governor Drive, children cross bustling traffic each morning on their way to three schools in the area. Some of them have been hit in the past by cars whizzing by, residents said.

And, bridge proponents underscore, traffic is expected to get worse. They point to the planned expansions of major institutions in the area like the Scripps Hospital, UC San Diego and Westfield Mall, as well as the booming high-tech and bio-tech sectors.

“It really comes down to safety,” said Carole Pietras, an active businesswoman in the community who supports the new bridge. “I hope to heaven we never have an emergency because if we do, we’re going to be in dire straits.”

Residents south of Rose Canyon have long cited not having their own fire station and concern that traffic along Genesee Drive could block an engine from coming quickly to their aid. Improving response times is the main reason why San Diego’s police and fire chiefs have supported building the bridge.

Knight brushed aside concerns about traffic in University City. She lives near Genesee Drive and said most of the day congestion is no problem at all. It’s only bad at rush hour, she said, and that wouldn’t change with a new bridge.

Still, she wants to know if the four candidates campaigning to represent her on the City Council share this same view. The bridge proposal isn’t dead. It’s still included in the community’s blueprint for future development. In 2006, faced with lawsuits, the city just decided to stall the project.

Pietras said she hopes to bring it back to the forefront of the City Council’s attention this year. Later this week, I’m planning to ask the candidates what they think about the bridge proposal and other issues raised by residents during my week of interviews in District 1.

Asked about the candidates, Pietras said she wants her representative to at least keep an open mind to the project. Knight described her ideal candidate as someone with a “super, rock-solid commitment to preserving Rose Canyon.”

So where do the candidates fall? I’ll let you know later this week or next. In the meantime, please share your thoughts on the bridge proposal in the comments section below. What would you ask the council candidates?

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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