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La Jolla Shores divers and residents want the brakes put on ‘vanlife’ on Vallecitos

Parked vans line Vallecitos in La Jolla Shores on a January morning.
(Courtesy photo)

The “vanlife” trend made popular on social media, and even more so amid the stay-at-home, work-remotely lifestyle stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, has made its way to La Jolla Shores, according to chagrined divers and residents there.

Camper vans have been observed in recent months parked along Vallecitos, a short street where the westernmost block has limited parking next to the south side of Kellogg Park.

“The problem has been growing at an exponential rate, and now overnight parking is officially out of control down at La Jolla Shores,” said one local scuba diver who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When I show up at 5 a.m., there may be no parking or only one or two parking places at the top of Vallecitos. In a previous life, I would have my choice. Instead, I’m left to walk two blocks to the ocean. My dive gear weighs 85 pounds.”

La Jolla Shores is known for scuba diving due to the gradual entry into the ocean and the underwater canyons just offshore.

In one week, the diver said, she photographed 28 camper vans — many with out-of-state license plates — parked along Vallecitos and at the nearby Kellogg Park parking lot. The second week of January, she counted eight vans parked bumper to bumper on Vallecitos, she said.

"Overnight parking is officially out of control down at La Jolla Shores," according to a local scuba diver.
(Courtesy photo)

“These people are so comfortably confident in their residence, I saw a pair of shoes resting on the ground in front of one vehicle door, and the vehicle was even parked in the red [no-parking zone],” the diver said. “There was a beach chair parked in front of another vehicle, the owner sleeping soundly inside. … Other campers emerge in the morning wearing their PJs as they head bleary-eyed to the [nearby public] bathroom. As I emerged from the ocean and headed to my car [one day], I passed a guy washing his cookware in the sink at the [restroom facility].”

In San Diego, it is against the municipal code to live in one’s car.

“It is unlawful for any person to use a vehicle for human habitation on any street or public property, unless the street or public property is specifically authorized for such use by the city manager,” the code states.

Habitation includes “sleeping; bathing; preparing or cooking meals; possessing or storing items that are not associated with ordinary vehicle use, such as a sleeping bag, bedroll, blanket, sheet, pillow, used bedding, kitchen utensils, cookware, cooking equipment, camping gear, food, water, personal grooming items” and others, according to the code.

Sydney Ferbrache, who has stayed in her van in San Diego (but not in La Jolla Shores), said the popularity of vanlife has taken off with the pandemic. “It blew up because people started working remotely and realized they could work from anywhere,” she said. “It provides us tremendous freedom. There are vans of all scale, which allowed [my partner and I] a more budget-friendly way to explore the country without flights, hotels, rental cars, and in a way that we can take our dogs.”

She added that some vans are more cost-efficient than some studio apartments.

Ferbrache, who writes about living in her van on her blog, “Divine on the Road,” said the presence of one camper van tends to encourage others.

“When you pull into a lot or an area and see a couple of vans, you know there is a community,” she said. “You can feel vulnerable when you are the only one. You get to La Jolla and find any beach parking lot and half are vans. That’s always exciting.”

The issue has been reported to the La Jolla Shores Association, a community group that addresses matters concerning the area.

“We’ve had reports that people are parking campers all day down by the south comfort station [restroom facility] on Vallecitos,” LJSA President Janie Emerson said. “That street is short-term parking and is a loading and unloading zone; you are not supposed to park there. We started having families that would park there and use the comfort station. They would be parked in the red and have the camper doors open and put their kids in the shower, put their pajamas on and send the kids to bed.”

A person uses a sink at the Kellogg Park restroom facility in La Jolla Shores, reportedly after emerging from a van nearby.
A person uses a sink at the Kellogg Park restroom facility in La Jolla Shores, reportedly after emerging from a van parked nearby.
(Courtesy photo)

Emerson argued that the vans’ presence “prevents others from being able to access the beach.”

But outside of notifying police, “there isn’t much we can do,” she lamented. “We don’t want to end up like Sunset Cliffs, but without enforcement, it doesn’t matter. And enforcement isn’t there.”

Emerson said she notified the San Diego Police Department and City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.

LaCava told the La Jolla Light that the situation is “problematic at several levels.” He said his office has requested enforcement.

“Per recent conversations, SDPD continues to brief my office that the sergeants patrolling The Shores are aware that illegally parked vehicles are an ongoing problem in that area and will be providing additional monitoring in the area,” LaCava said.

Residents are encouraged to report illegally parked vehicles and other violations to SDPD’s non-emergency line at (619) 531-2000 or file a report via the city’s Get It Done app. ◆