On April 26, Cheryl Aspenleiter found her car ticketed $302.50 for blocking a wheelchair access ramp near La Jolla Children’s Pool, and the irony is not lost on her. Aspenleiter serves as chairwoman of R.A.M.P. (Restore Access to Many People), a grassroots group that advocates for wheelchair ramp access to Children’s Pool.
“The whole thing is just weird,” Aspenleiter said. “I guess nothing in life is an accident.”
Aspenleiter, a retired teacher and Oceanside property manager who uses the Children’s Pool to soothe injuries from a car accident, claims that the location where she was ticketed (900 Coast Blvd.) looks deceptively like a legal parking spot. It is lined by a car-length stretch of unpainted curb sandwiched between two red curbs.
Yes, there’s a curb cut and a bumpy yellow metal plate denoting it — the bumps preventing wheelchairs from sliding uncontrollably downhill. But both are very easy to miss, and there is no crosswalk connecting it to a similar ramp on the other side of Coast Boulevard, like there are at two a block south.
“This is a trap because the police can just sit there,” Aspenleiter said. “People park there all day long because they don’t understand you’re not supposed to park there.”
On two of the three random visits the Light made to the location, a parked car blocked the ramp. On one of those two occasions, a parking ticket waited on the windshield. (Unfortunately, the owner was not in the mood to speak to a reporter upon returning to her vehicle.)
“I would think La Jolla would want people spending their money at its restaurants and shops, and not getting angry when they find a ticket for a parking spot where the intent is not only not clear, but it’s dangerous because the street is unsafe to cross,” Aspenleiter said. (The location is a three-way intersection where Coast Boulevard becomes Jenner Street and branches off into a new Coast Boulevard.)
San Diego Police Officer Billy Hernandez told the Light that the location in question “clearly is a handicap access ramp.” And the reason the curbs are red on both sides is that “if someone is crossing the street in a wheelchair, having more room between cars allows them to see both ways before safely crossing the street.”
The fact that there’s not a crosswalk there “doesn’t matter,” Hernandez added. Wheelchair access ramps from the street to the sidewalk can be placed anywhere and can never be blocked.
“Yes, but it’s so obscure, a normal person doesn’t see that,” said John Leek, who received a ticket for blocking the same ramp on Oct. 20, 2016. “And a law, in order to be valid, has to be such that a reasonable person can tell what it means. Without any red curb or sign or something like that, a reasonable person cannot know that it’s illegal to park there.”
Leek, an electronics engineer from Serra Mesa, remembers looking at his parking ticket, then back at the curb and thinking: “It can’t be! This is a trap!”
See you in court
Aspenleiter followed the instructions every parking-ticket recipient in La Jolla receives to challenge the decision. But her written appeal was denied, so she exercised her second appeal, to a hearing officer in person — “which is another way of saying a private attorney outsourced by the City,” Aspenleiter said.
On July 31, she pleaded her case — that she saw the ramp but thought it was intended to access a legally parked car from the sidewalk — to attorney Michael B. Chu and was mailed a notification saying that she lost again.
On Oct. 23, Aspenleiter then exercised her final option, appealing to Superior Court, where she was shut down by a lawyer acting as a judge. (Aspenleiter said she was told there weren’t enough judges, and that she could reschedule if she wanted. She chose not to.)
“He told me right then and there that I lost,” Aspenleiter said, “because you simply can’t park in front of a wheelchair ramp, but he also told me that he agreed with my argument and told me to take it up with City Council.” (She still might, but decided to come to the Light first.)
Like Aspenleiter, Leek filled out the paperwork to fight the ticket and, even more impressively, cited specific code describing why the curb does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, including the fact that the four-foot-wide yellow plate needs to be a foot wider to qualify as a detectable warning surface (California DOT Revised Standard Plan A88A), that its 11 percent slope is beyond the maximum 7.5 percent permitted (California DOT Design Information Bulletins 82-05), and that the preferred painted color on concrete is always red (ADA Sidewalk Ramp and Curb Ramp Design Criteria 642.2).
“An undersized yellow bumpy plate is not designation as a legal ADA access ramp,” Leek concluded in his written argument. “That is not its purpose. Without a crosswalk, it misleads the handicapped to expect a safe place to cross where there is none and entraps unwary motorists.”
Like Aspenleiter, Leek also lost his first appeal. However, he didn’t press forward. “I had done such an impressive job and yet they just flat rejected me,” he said. “So I couldn’t take time off work for the obscure possibility that they would change their minds. They don’t have to do anything.”
Aspenleiter wondered why police would claim a wheelchair ramp was clearly marked when it wasn’t. So she filed a public records request and discovered that, in the 12 months between Aug. 2016 and 2017, the City issued 251 tickets for blocking the ramp, representing $75,802 in passive annual income. “That’s almost a million dollars in the 10 years that spot has been there,” she said.
At two clearly marked crosswalks a block south, at 850 Coast Blvd., Aspenleiter noted that — thanks to a separate public-records request she made — no parking tickets were issued during the same period. “Would anybody in their right mind park in a clearly marked crosswalk?” she asked. “Of course not! But they would park where I parked, because the intent isn’t clear.”
When asked why he thought so many more tickets were issued for parking at 900 Coast Blvd. than at 850 Coast Blvd., Officer Hernandez replied: “I can’t comment on that.”
On her way out of Superior Court, Aspenleiter said she was approached by a young attorney asking for her information. He said if they got in touch with everybody ticketed for parking in that spot, Aspenleiter recalled, “it would make a great class-action suit.”