La Jolla Planners ask City to lower Black’s Overlook fence

Against the recommendation of lifeguards and City engineers, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) during its May 3 meeting, voted to send a letter asking the City to lower the height of a fence at the edge of the Black’s Overlook.

The chain-link fence currently stands at just under six feet tall at the end of a viewing area over Black’s Beach. The viewing area is landscaped with a walking path leading to the bluff’s edge and its fence.

It was originally permitted to be approximately four feet with safety and regulatory signage.

“All we want to do is bring this fence into compliance,” said beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather. “It’s a very special place for surfers to look at the ocean and in the La Jolla Community Plan, it says view areas should have fences that are four feet.”

However, City spokesperson Bill Harris said he has communicated with various departments on this issue — including Code Compliance, Lifeguards, San Diego Fire & Rescue, San Diego Department Park & Recreation, and his own staff — and they unanimously agree the fence should remain at nearly six feet for safety reasons.

“The rationale for the lifeguards is that they have a continuing issue with people trying to access the canyon and the unstable bluffs,” Harris told the planning board. “They do not support bringing the fence down any lower. Same thing goes for the Fire & Rescue Department and the Department of Park & Rec. Their experience is, even a six-foot fence is a scant deterrent to someone determined to climb over, but it adds benefit above a four-foot fence. Lifeguards confirmed today they wanted it at six feet.”

Trustee John Shannon asked if there are issues in areas of the nearby Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where the fences are lower but there is a bluff on the other side.

Harris responded: “This is a manufactured viewpoint. The determination has been this is the type of fence that is the best deterrent to prevent accidents. I’ve been told this is the most unstable portion of bluff that runs along Black’s Beach.”

Compared to areas like the Bandera Street overlook in Bird Rock, which recently had a six-foot tall chain link fence taken down in favor of a post-and-chair barrier, Harris added that the bluffs there are not of the height nor instability of the bluffs at Black’s Overlook.

“Those are the factors that were weighed on this,” Harris said. “This site is special, but on the same token, it is dangerous.”

Trustee Mike Costello noted: “One of the really important things about a coastal community like ours is a view of the coast, and access to the coast. … We have a lot of places, like Calumet Park, that have slippery steep bluffs and there is no fence. As a coastal community, we should treasure and protect our coastal view and access.”

When asked if a vote in favor of lowering the fence would mean a City Council presentation or any other future presentations or action, Harris said it was “doubtful,” adding, “We’ll respond to the letter … but it would be a summary of what I’ve just said.”

Alternative solution?

Some trustees posed whether an alternative fence design beyond the chain-link fence that is already there would make the view more accessible but still provide safety.

“That type of solution and those proposals are welcome, but what needs to be considered is the maintenance (whether there is peculiar or unique maintenance) and whether the footing or foundation would be inconsistent with the bluff top,” Harris said. “I don’t think there is a lot of resistance to an alternative, but at the moment, this is what the City departments have assessed as necessary.”

Nevertheless, a motion to ask the City to lower the fence passed 13-1-1.

— La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, June 7 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.