WindanSea Worriment: Playa Del Norte parking dominates La Jolla meeting with police

A town hall meeting held April 30 at La Jolla Library may have been intended to introduce the community to new San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, but nearly half the meeting was dedicated to the concerns surrounding the end of Playa Del Norte in WindanSea.

At issue is the foot of Playa Del Norte, which has a striped, no-parking zone. In response to resident concerns that people were parking and congregating there at night — reportedly engaging in illegal activities including drug use and vandalism — stanchions outlining the no-parking area were installed in summer 2017 to block access.

However, surfers who use the area to view the ocean and wave sets sought to have the stanchions removed and an alternative implemented. A petition was circulated asking for the view to be restored and it garnered hundreds of signatures.

Hoping for a meet-in-the-middle solution, City Council member Barbara Bry launched a six-month pilot program April 18 to allow for two, 15-minute parking spaces, where parking is permitted 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The stanchions came down and the striped area was reduced that day.

Bry elaborated at the Town Hall: “My goal with this pilot program is two-pronged: education and enforcement. I’m working with community members who will be placing information cards on automobiles that park in the spaces (illegally). The cards will explain if drivers violate the rules, they understand the privilege could be revoked. I’m also using RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol) to serve as another set of eyes and ears. My office has asked for parking enforcement officers to cite motorists who violate the rules, and increased patrolling by police at night.”

A request, she said, Chief Nisleit has approved.

But residents say in the span of less than two weeks, there have been hundreds of traffic violations and observations of illegal or disruptive activity at Playa Del Norte.

Neighborhood Watch Captain for the area, Elizabeth Green, joined by about a dozen neighbors, said when the stanchions were placed: “public safety was restored.”

However, Bry’s decision to launch the pilot program: “made the situation worse than it was before” and Green asked: “Why have you taken my lifelong dream of owning a home on the beach and turned it into a nightmare?”

The stories of other homeowners echoed her concerns.

Resident Tony Luna said: “Over the past 10 days, we have witnessed (and our home video surveillance has shown), several groups engaging in illegal and disrespectful behavior, damaging property, ignoring the law and destroying the peaceful enjoyment of our neighborhood. … We have documented more than 250 traffic and safety violations, including 162 incidences of wrong-way drivers; 13 incidences of the area becoming a makeshift skateboard park, using private property as rails; 50 cars that double- or triple-parked, creating a blockage on that street; 78 cars exceeding the 15-minute parking limit; 19 cars parking in the striped no-parking area; and parking beyond the no-parking night time and conducting suspicious activities.”

Many said once the stanchions were put in place, many of the problems ended and did not require police enforcement from an already understaffed department. Others opined that the parking alternative provides a view, but doesn’t solve a problem; whereas the stanchions solved an existing problem.

Representing the surfers and hoping to keep the stanchions away, Friends of WindanSea member Jim Neri, said: “I’ve lived at this beach for 50 years and we have used that same space, not for drinking or using drugs, but for checking out the surf. This public vantage point is for the public to view the ocean.” He advocated for letting the six months of the pilot program lapse before anything else is changed and offered to have Friends of WindanSea post a new sign that reads: “Quiet Zone: Please Respect Neighbors.”

After listening to the comments, Bry responded: “It’s clear you all care about the community, and I know WindanSea is a treasure. Illegal parking should be ticketed, but does not threaten public safety. Wrong-way driving would be addressed by proper signage. Illegal use of drugs and alcohol is a criminal act and we need to apprehend the people doing that.”

But, she said: “it’s a very popular area and we have to do as good a job as we can of making sure the area is accessible to everyone. I wanted this pilot to happen, but before we did, we asked the Police Department for documentation of issues that happened in this area and there were very few.”

Bry recommended convening as a community — surfers and residents — to figure out a way to work together going forward, and she promised to orchestrate a meeting by the end of May.

In the meantime, Bill Harris, spokesperson for the San Diego Transportation & Stormwater Department, said the City would be watching the area “carefully” and taking resident feedback. “There are tweaks we can do, but it’s your feedback that’s going to make the difference,” he said, and he suggested use of the City’s Get It Done app.

Chief Nisleit said this issue was brought to his attention in the days prior, but that police would be “stepping up our game” and residents would see more parking enforcement and officers on motorcycles. “I ask that you be patient, but we will find a way for everyone to coexist … and work with the City Council office to find the best solution.”