Neighbors hope to shut La Jolla coastal accessway at Moss Lane

Amid the steep hills of coastal Bird Rock sits Moss Lane, a 20-foot-wide, 200-foot-long alley that runs from Abalone Place through Dolphin Place to a public ocean lookout. Recently, the City posted two Notices of Application at the entrances to the lane’s east end to herald a proposal to vacate the street between 5725 and 5735 Dolphin Place, made by the applicants’ lawyer Jorge Palacios at the Development Permit Review (DPR) committee meeting, May 9.

The proposal was met with protest, chiefly from beach-access advocate Melinda Merryweather, who stated, “We have so few places left in La Jolla to walk through and see through that every inch should be preserved.”

Palacios explained that the street has been maintained by the adjacent homeowners “for a number of years, and nobody uses it except for vandalism or something like that.”

The grass-covered 100-foot section of the alley between Abalone Place and Dolphin Place features a variety of landscaping, including white roses and an assortment of wild flowers (in bloom at this time of year), birdfeeders and a gate on the north side (5735 Dolphin Place), and on the south side (5725 Dolphin Place) is a five-foot hedge that turns into a 10-foot bamboo buffer.

If the application to vacate the lane is approved, the 0.044-acre section will be divided in two and attached to the adjacent properties. “We’re not asking for any development on the vacation, just vacating it (from City ownership) so we can put a fence in the middle and secure the side yards so people don’t pass through them,” Palacios explained.

On the Dolphin Place side of the alley, a five-step brick stair adjacent a retaining wall allows pedestrians to avoid the slope. “People don’t walk that way because there’s a retaining wall,” Palacios pointed out, “so unless you’re really young, I don’t advise you walk down to the beach that way.”

Two of the four steps are slightly bigger than the average (approximately 12 inches), but Merryweather alleges she walks up and down them with no problem. “I went down there, and sat for about an hour and watched six people go through. People do use it, and divers use it and go in the ocean there (from Moss Lane).”

Property owner Larry Tannenbaum told Merryweather she was “mischaracterizing” the use of the lane. “It’s rarely used and if you wanted to see the ocean, there’s a City-maintained walkway on Bird Rock Avenue.”

Moss Lane appears in the La Jolla Community Plan as an “improved dedicated street off Dolphin Place. Provides bluff-top viewing. Steps are located in bluff edge, but access to the beach is not recommended. Well defined bluff trail leads to rock point to the south.” However, in Appendix G Figure H, the map showing the area, only the western part of Moss Lane (Dolphin Place to the ocean) is highlighted.

The California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) review of the project identifies nine issues, including the path’s identification within the La Jolla Community Plan. “Its closure would be incongruent with the plan and possibly require a (plan) amendment. An accessway does not necessarily have to be directly on the shoreline to be of service to the public, and it is the provision of accessways inland from the coast that encourages visitors to park elsewhere, knowing there is access nearby, rather than trying to crowd along the nearest shoreline road.”

CCC adds in its comments that Moss Lane provides an ocean view from Abalone Place, which would be adversely impacted in case the vacation went through. “As it currently stands, there is private landscaping blocking public views westward toward the ocean from Abalone Place that should be addressed through removal or trimming to restore public views.”

The CCC also requires the applicant to submit documents proving the motive behind the vacation, chiefly “nuisance activity,” in the form of police reports or City records.

DPR committee members were not ready to make a decision on the vacation at the May 9 meeting. Trustee Diane Kane requested the applicant bring forward more information about pedestrian use of the area. “People have been using (Moss Lane) for 50 years. The public has established their right to pass through that area,” she said.

DPR board member Angeles Leira opined that the alley should be preserved for pedestrian access because, “These are large, long blocks and every time you have an opportunity to break through the block, especially for pedestrians, we should be able to do it. We never think of the pedestrians.”

The discussion was tabled to the 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 20 DPR meeting at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

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