‘It needed to be done’: Resident paints stairway railings at Windansea Beach without San Diego’s approval

The stairway railings leading to Windansea Beach at the foot of Nautilus Street were repainted by resident Joseph McGoldrick.
The stairway railings leading to Windansea Beach at the foot of Nautilus Street were repainted by local resident Joseph McGoldrick.
(Joseph McGoldrick)

A La Jolla resident took it on himself recently to repaint stairway railings leading to Windansea Beach — to mixed responses from locals and the city of San Diego.

“It needed to be done,” said Joseph McGoldrick, who also repainted what is known as the “penalty box” at the top of the stairs at the foot of Nautilus Street. “The paint was peeling and cracking and people could get hurt.

“The city of San Diego is not maintaining our beaches properly, and now local residents have to step up and get things done.”

The staircase railings are pictured before they were painted by resident Joseph McGoldrick.
(Joseph McGoldrick)

Working alone over four days, McGoldrick sanded and scraped off the existing paint and recoated the handrails using commercial paint, he said. During that time, beach-goers and even city employees commended him for the work, he said.

“A lot of people thanked me and gave me a thumbs-up when I was working on it,” McGoldrick said. “One of the city workers picking up trash commented on it. She was unhappy with some of the stairs and other accesses and said it was a good thing” that he was painting the railing.

Though McGoldrick strayed from the city process of filing a work request on the Get It Done app, he’s not worried about potential repercussions, he said.

“I’ve used the Get It Done app and things don’t get done,” he said. “I knew if it was going to get done, I had to do it. There is too much red tape and the city probably would have said no. And I did a better job than they would have done.”

But city spokesman Anthony Santacroce said “this is not something that he should have done or something the city is OK with. This resident could have brought this up with his community planning group, attended a meeting, brought it up with his [City] Council [representative’s] office … to advocate for it.”

Santacroce also lamented that residents seem to have “an arbitrary timeline” as to when work should be done through the Get It Done app.

“Get It Done gets a lot of requests and there are only so many staffers,” Santacroce said. “I understand the frustration of wanting aesthetic things painted, but we prioritize the most important things and most requested items and the stuff affecting people’s safety, [such as] graffiti removal, which is a blight to the community, inspecting trees so they don’t fall down and repairing potholes.”

McGoldrick, however, said: “ I grew up here and have a deep affection for Windansea Beach. I surfed there and still go there, and the stairs are the access. … They were in such a state of disrepair.”

“It’s quite pristine, and that’s how I wanted to leave it,” he added. “I wanted it to be beautiful and safe.”

The "penalty box" at the top of the Windansea Beach access stairway before and after Joseph McGoldrick repainted it.
The “penalty box” at the top of the Windansea Beach access stairway is pictured before (top) and after (bottom) Joseph McGoldrick repainted it.
(Photos by Joseph McGoldrick)

The story of the “penalty box” dates to the 1960s, “when Windansea was a little more rowdy,” McGoldrick said. Police would use the area at the top of the stairs to hold people who were drinking on the beach, hence the nickname.

Friends of Windansea member Jim Neri said the group usually does a larger paint job of area fences in the spring but was “thrilled” by McGoldrick’s work. “We’re glad when citizens step up and help, and he is now a friend of Windansea,” Neri said.

Friends of Windansea currently is part of a project to install post-and-rope barriers next to the sidewalk to block people from makeshift trails and help make sure they use the stairs. A related plan to build a belvedere (also known as a gazebo) on Neptune Place near Rosemont Street also is being hashed out.

Santacroce said the city will inspect McGoldrick’s work to see if the paint can withstand the seaside elements and meets city standards.

It isn’t yet known what other actions the city might take.

“Every project has things that are considered, and no matter how noble your intentions are, citizens are not following code,” Santacroce said. “The staircase is a community thing that could have been gotten to in the budget through community reps.”

Santacroce suggested that residents who are frustrated with the city’s responsiveness through the Get It Done app visit to read the Frequently Asked Questions section, which includes projected timelines for various services, how certain reports are processed and more.

In October, a working group was formed under the auspices of the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board with the aim of maintaining damaged fences along La Jolla’s coastal parks. It recently submitted a draft permit application to the city to carry out repairs.

The working group’s effort comes after some residents voiced concern that the fences are chipping away. ◆