‘We’ll just keep buying more chalk’: Creators of BLM drawings on La Jolla path are undeterred by removals

Area residents add chalk drawings to the La Jolla Bike Path in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Sept. 27.

For the latest in a string of gatherings, local residents and others took to the La Jolla Bike Path over the weekend to draw messages in support of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement after neighbors’ previous complaints resulted in similar drawings being removed.

Texts and emails inviting participation in “#chalkup 3.0” on Sept. 27 went out to many of those who took part in two other organized events July 4 and Labor Day, saying it would bring “the La Jolla community together to share messages of love, peace, tolerance, respect, diversity [and] equality.”

Chalk messages are seen on the La Jolla Bike Path on Sept. 23, a week after the city of San Diego removed similar drawings.
Chalk messages are pictured on the La Jolla Bike Path on Sept. 23, a week after the city of San Diego removed similar drawings after receiving complaints from nearby residents.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The messages and images made over Labor Day weekend on the bike path north of Beaumont Avenue and Via del Norte were removed by San Diego city workers Sept. 16 in response to complaints that the drawings were offensive graffiti.

The Labor Day event was a repeat of one that occurred over the July 4 weekend. Those drawings were washed away a few days after that. Both events were organized by La Jollan Ruth Leivers.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Council member Barbara Bry, told the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group during its Sept. 28 meeting that Bry “asked the mayor and received assurance that this time around, the chalk will not be power-washed off, as it was previously.”

“This is political free speech, as much as it addresses governmental policy and action and is constitutionally protected as such,” Hadley said, referring to the writings as artwork.

Even before “#chalkup 3.0,” a few new chalk drawings appeared on the path around Sept. 21, including “BLM” and “You can’t wash away hate.” More showed up Sept. 23 with messages such as “We are only as strong as we are united.” The La Jolla Light was unable to ascertain the chalk artists’ identities.

For a second time, the city of San Diego power-washed chalk drawings off the La Jolla Bike Path in response to complaints that the drawings, which carried messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, were offensive.

Sept. 21, 2020

On Sept. 25, a small group gathered to add its own drawings after reading about the Labor Day messages being washed away.

“It’s a way of honoring and speaking … that is nourishing the Black community, for any of us that feel invested in this movement,” said Jennifer Fiallos, a Pacific Beach resident.

Group member Adrea Barros of San Diego said she was “pretty outraged” by the earlier drawings being removed. Redoing the chalk art is important, Barros said, because people need “to be candid about it. It shows if you’re going to decide you want to get in the way of progress, especially around the topic of race ... you’re going to get run over. People won’t allow it right now.

“There used to be a day when we would ... cower” when it came to issues of racial justice and gender equality, Barros said. “A new voice has emerged. That’s the importance of all these demonstrations and events, this showing of support around progressive issues.”

A small group drew messages and images in chalk on the La Jolla Bike Path on Sept. 25.
A small group drew messages and images in chalk on the La Jolla Bike Path on Sept. 25 in response to earlier messages being washed away.

Fiallos said her drawings focused on “cultivating the humanity of the Black lives we lose every day.”

A few passersby stopped to offer words of encouragement. One woman, however, “was not happy,” Fiallos said. “She was disgruntled.”

City spokesman Anthony Santacroce told the Light after the Labor Day messages were washed off that crews had “followed normal operating procedures for removing markings in the right of way.” The drawings, he said, “were identified as ‘offensive’ only by the reporting party.”

Nearby residents declined requests for comment.

William Gammon, who lives in Point Loma’s Sunset Cliffs neighborhood, told the Light in an email that he sees chalk drawings “all over” and said “they should not be in the public right of way and are irritating to me on my walks because of the graffiti nature of them.”

“If you want to express your views, do it on your own property,” he said. “I can think of a lot of things that I support but that I would oppose being chalked on my neighborhood sidewalks, whatever the benefit. It is inappropriate.”

The Sept. 27 “#chalkup 3.0” was organized partly by La Jollan Mira Sanchez Costello, who participated in the July 4 event and said she wants “to feel that all ethnic backgrounds and diversity is encouraged, that people feel safe and comfortable living in La Jolla.”

After she learned the Labor Day drawings had been rinsed away and read comments on social networking site Nextdoor complaining about the artwork, Sanchez Costello was “disheartened,” she said. “If they’re going to keep washing away these messages that kids wrote in chalk and call that graffiti … we’ll just keep buying more chalk.”

Leivers, the organizer of the first two events, also participated in the Sept. 27 gathering with her children.

“We envision our neighborhood as an inclusive community,” she said. “We invited the community to use art to have a conversation about equity. Our children are trying to process what they’re seeing in the world around them as our nation grapples with what The New York Times says may be the largest social movement in our history. Our children know that Black lives matter and they’re confused as to why the country is so torn up about it.”

“We ask that everyone keep the original goal in mind, that the messages remain inclusive and child-friendly,” Leivers added.

Mitzi Mayer of La Jolla did not attend the first two organized events but said she went to the third one because “if little things like this can be erased, what is that really saying about the bigger picture? It’s not just only chalk.”

La Jollan Brian Siddons, who went to the Labor Day and Sept. 27 chalk events with his children and is a regular user of the bike path, said, “Imagine if those people who complained about the chalk art transferred their energy and influence to solve the real problems with the bike path,” such as overgrown vegetation, litter and uneven pavement.

“Now imagine if we all used our influence, big and small, to ensure equality for all,” Siddons said. “Then, and only then, we will actually be living free in a more perfect union.”

Todd Lynch, who participated last weekend, said that “as a native and lifelong resident, it makes me proud to see the people of our community taking a stand for justice and equality. It’s especially encouraging to see all the younger generations learning that free speech, voting and other American freedoms are not just a right but a responsibility.”

“Opponents of Black Lives Matter chalk messaging on the bike path, who called for it to be removed ... have served only to inspire a larger and more enduring movement on the part of its supporters,” Lynch added.

— La Jolla Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon contributed to this report.