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La Jolla Shores street closure for outdoor dining raises complaints about access to boat launch

The La Jolla traffic board heard concerns about access to the boat launch at the west end of Avenida de la Playa.
The La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board heard concerns about access to the boat launch at the west end of Avenida de la Playa at its Aug. 17 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As proponents of La Jolla Shores’ outdoor dining program await a decision from the California Coastal Commission on whether they can proceed with a permanent closure of part of Avenida de la Playa, opponents have raised concerns about beach access.

The La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board took up the discussion at its virtual meeting Aug. 17, with Mike Costello, a trustee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, saying the closure of one block of Avenida de la Playa for outdoor restaurant dining restricts access to the boat ramp at the west end of the street.

“Access in coastal communities such as ours, a coastal recreation community, is very important for scuba divers, fishermen, boaters in general and kayakers and canoers,” Costello said.

Avenida de la Playa has been closed to vehicle traffic between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata since July 2020, when the La Jolla Shores Association began the outdoor dining program in response to shutdowns of indoor dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, the dining program has remained. LJSA board member Phil Wise, who has spearheaded the project since its inception, has helped the affected businesses apply for the city of San Diego’s “Spaces as Places” program, which was passed last year to establish regulations for eating and drinking installations placed on parking spaces on city streets and other outdoor public areas and help existing temporary operations transition to permanent.

The Spaces as Places initiative went into effect in most of the city in mid-July, but it can’t in the coastal zone — which includes most of La Jolla — until the program is reviewed and certified by the Coastal Commission. That review is required because the ordinance requires a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities.

The commission has not yet taken up the matter. Its next meeting is set for Sept. 7-9.

In the meantime, Wise has received new permits from the city’s Development Services and Special Events & Filming departments due to changing regulations that will allow the closure on Avenida de la Playa to continue from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, with restaurants reducing their outdoor dining spaces to accommodate nighttime vehicles.

Costello, however, said the closure is “one more example of loss of beach access … that I really have trouble with.”

As the issue awaits Coastal Commission review, “it helps to air all the questions now,” he said.

The planned permanent closure of one block of Avenida de la Playa for outdoor dining awaits California Coastal Commission.
The planned permanent closure of one block of Avenida de la Playa for outdoor dining awaits California Coastal Commission approval.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Traffic & Transportation Chairman Brian Earley, an LJSA board member, said “there have been very few complaints” about the dining program.

Wise agreed, noting that the program, though begun as a response to COVID, has “morphed into something much bigger … to improve the environment and the happiness of the people that live here and the people that come to visit here.”

Earley asked the 26 people attending the meeting on Zoom if any had heard complaints about not being able to launch a boat due to the street closure. No one answered that they had.

But Tricia Riha, a Shores resident and an opponent of the Avenida de la Playa closure for outdoor dining, said people are afraid to speak up. “It’s a very political situation we have here,” she said.

Furthermore, she said, “it’s not about launching your boat, it’s about getting there.”

Wise said there are other routes to the boat ramp, noting that several side streets from La Jolla Shores Drive and Torrey Pines Road lead to the westernmost part of Avenida de la Playa and the boat launch.

“Now you’re requiring people to go around in circles,” Riha said. “Why shouldn’t they have a straight shot?”

The closure has “disrupted the entire neighborhood,” she said.

Mercedes La Fond wrote in a letter to the editor published in the La Jolla Light in June that “residents like me have to go around and around to get to The Village. Avenida de la Playa should have access all the way from La Jolla Shores Drive to the La Jolla Shores Hotel.”

Wise said the city “would not have let us do the existing street event if they perceived there was a traffic issue.”

La Jolla resident Brenda Fake said access to the boat launch “is not cut off. You’re still able to get there.”

Costello acknowledged that there are alternate routes but said “none of them are as nice as going straight down Avenida de la Playa.”

T&T Vice Chairman Dave Abrams said the closure of the street “seems to be very much a community asset. It’s well-liked and ... well-utilized.”

“The boat ramp is accessible,” Abrams added. “It might not be as convenient as it was, but ... people are getting there.”

Riha, whose own letter to the editor was published in the Light earlier this month, said it’s the only beach boat launch in the city, but Wise said the San Diego Kayak Club lists several sandy beach launches for kayakers.

Ken Hunrichs, a member of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board, said he’s not very familiar with The Shores area but drove the side streets ahead of the T&T meeting.

He said the narrowness of the streets, with parking on both sides, led him to worry that should the Avenida de la Playa closure become permanent, “there will be a call for reducing the street parking again.”

LJSA President Janie Emerson said the Coastal Commission would not allow a reduction in parking.

Earley said the discussion might continue after the commission weighs in on Spaces as Places. ◆