Mayor: Put the stanchions back in place, Some La Jollans: Wait for parking study

Less than 24 hours after the meeting last week to bring those on both sides of the contentious Playa del Norte stanchions issue to the table, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office announced a decision to reinstate the stanchions in the coming days.

The issue, a year-and-a-half in the making (see timeline, below), centers on a striped, no-parking area at the foot of Playa del Norte where it meets Neptune Place, where experimental parking configurations have been implemented.

First, the area was blocked with stanchions, drawing the ire of the surfers who use the spot to view the surf.

Then, in April, City Council member Barbara Bry implemented a six-month pilot program to permit two, 15-minute parking spaces in that area to placate the surfers, but drawing the ire of the residents who live nearby.

The residents contend they are troubled by noise and alleged drug-use from those using the parking spots. Their other concern is the traffic safety issue associated with drivers proceeding the wrong way on a one-way street to make a U-turn to access the spaces.

A meeting was held the evening of Nov. 27 at the La Jolla Riford Library with both sides reporting, moderated by National Conflict Resolution Center mediator and land-use lawyer Cary Lowe, tasked with developing a common understanding to determine the next needed steps for a solution.

However, the next day, Mayor Faulconer’s office e-mailed Bry’s office announcing the dissolution of the pilot program that allowed the parking, and stating that the stanchions would be replaced. It read in part: “After receiving many complaints, photos and video from community members, we have decided to act in the interest of public safety. We will be reverting the program site back to its original state with additional stanchions to act as a barrier to illegal parking.”

Craig Gustafson, senior director of communications for the Mayor, told La Jolla Light: “This was a well-intentioned, but ultimately failed, experiment that drew daily complaints from nearby residents about the dangerous conditions observed following installation of the parking spots. The Mayor is removing the parking spots for public-safety reasons and to do what’s in the best interest of the community.”

Despite the decision, residents representing the surfing community are asking for the opportunity to finish what was started at the Nov. 27 meeting — and they have Council member Bry’s support.

Attempt at resolution

When representatives from both parties met to seek a resolution, speaking for keeping the parking places were La Jolla Community Planning Association trustees Patrick Ahern and Glen Rasmussen. Speaking for re-instating the stanchions were La Jolla Town Council trustee Michael Dershowitz and La Jolla Neighborhood Watch coordinator Cynthia Chasan, along with resident of the nearby condominium complex Mike Wong.

“Nothing is going to be decided today, no one in this room is a decision-maker for the City or any other agency with authority,” Lowe opened, “but what we can do tonight is arrive at a common definition of what the problem is now, and at least, what the options are for addressing it.”

Then he gave each side the chance to offer opening statements.

Rasmussen said: “This view is the most perfect view of the surf at WindanSea that exists. Before this condo was built and before the bollards went up, people were used to the tradition of driving up, seeing if the surf was consistent and worth the time to park their vehicles and unload their stuff.”

Dershowitz countered: “There is nothing more important than people’s safety. The residents of La Jolla would be best served by the continuation of the no-parking policy. Allowing parking has proven to cause documented adverse results: risks of collisions, risks to those on bikes and pedestrians, traffic congestion, illegal parking, loitering, excessive noise and drug use.”

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, many shared anecdotes about the space. Longtime resident Melinda Merryweather said: “My mother lived on that street for 32 years, and for 70 years, people have stopped there to look at the surf.” Another resident added “there were no problems” with the space before the construction of the condominium complex immediately adjacent in 2015.

However, residents who documented infractions with their home-surveillance cameras reported 2,192 incidences of wrong-way driving (the majority of which were reportedly to access the spaces); 1,204 cases of illegal parking violations; 1,260 violations of the 15-minute parking limitation; and 251 violations of the 8 p.m. parking limit.

Local architects Phil Merten and Jim Neri proposed street designs to improve the situation by keeping the parking places, but discouraging wrong-way driving. However, with no plans that met the needs of all those involved, some suggested deferring design ideas to professional traffic engineers.

Moderator Lowe posed the idea of removing the dedicated parking and the striping, and to have parallel parking against the curb “like every other street in the City of San Diego,” which was met with applause from half the room.

All said, Lowe presented three “next steps” that would involve a third party to create a neutral basis of information and move forward.

Step 1: Ask the City to survey area parking to determine if these parking spaces are needed (based on the number of houses, use, and the recommended parking number) and see how that compares to what is already there;

Step 2: Have the City Attorney weigh in on the concept of an “attractive nuisance” that might come with the parking configuration and “the gray area” of the extent to which the City can be held liable for creating a condition that is arguably dangerous;

Step 3: Meet with the City for a workshop with traffic engineers tasked with coming up with a plan that meets the needs identified in the City (Step 1) study that satisfies the neighborhood and the nearby residents.

However, before the City could consider these steps, the Mayor’s office announced its decision to replace the stanchions and remove the parking.

Nevertheless, Bry told La Jolla Light: “This decision doesn’t preclude my office and the community from moving forward and I will follow the direction of the working group to work with City staff on the (three) action items.”

Parking Issue Timeline

In June 2017, the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation advisory group approves a proposal to install stanchions along a striped, no-parking area at the foot of Playa del Norte in WindanSea (where it meets Neptune Place) to deter illegal parking and subsequent drug-use and nuisance activities. Residents of the nearby condominium complex report vandalism and disruption to their quality of life.

Before the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) can ratify the decision, the City installs stanchions to block parking.

December 2017, LJCPA votes to ask the City to remove the stanchions to preserve the view treasured by surfers, and asks the City to implement a temporary parking configuration as an alternative.

April 2018, a community meeting is held to discuss safety, and, hoping for a meet-in-the-middle solution, District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry launches a six-month pilot program to allow for two, 15-minute parking spaces, where parking is permitted 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The stanchions come down and the striped area is reduced that day.

In the following months, residents report 4,907 violations (the most serious is wrong-way driving) and multiple incidents (from April 18 to Aug. 31) where more than two cars are using the spaces. These are documented via a security camera.

September 2018, LJCPA asks to make the pilot program permanent.

One week later, La Jolla Town Council votes in direct opposition, asking the City to remove the parking places and re-instate the stanchions.

Soon after, Bry calls for the creation of an ad-hoc committee comprised of reps from all stakeholder groups to come together and craft a solution. The group holds its meeting Nov. 27 at the La Jolla Library.

The next day, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office announces the dissolution of the pilot parking program.

Less than 24 hours after a meeting was held to bring those on both sides of Playa del Norte stanchions issue to the table, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office announced a decision had been made to reinstate the stanchions, which will happen later this month.

Mayor's office announces stanchions replacement 24 hours after community meeting

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