La Jolla and other San Diego beach communities see their Coastal Coalition as a way to boost political power

Coastal Coalition members Marcella Teran, Larry Webb, Charlie Nieto, Catharine Douglass and Susan Crowers
Coastal Coalition members (from left) Marcella Teran, Neighborhood Watch coordinator for Mission Beach and Pacific Beach; Larry Webb, president of the Mission Beach Town Council; Charlie Nieto, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council; Catharine Douglass, chairwoman of the La Jolla Town Council Public Safety Committee; and Susan Crowers, board member of the Pacific Beach Town Council, are pictured in Mission Beach.
(Kristian Carreon)

The group is focused on street vendors, beach crime, bonfires and getting a fair shake from City Hall for hosting millions of tourists.


Leaders of San Diego’s beach communities are speaking and lobbying with a unified voice on controversial issues such as beach bonfires, vacation rentals, crime in coastal parks and street vendors on boardwalks.

Calling themselves the Coastal Coalition, the leaders of several town councils and other volunteer organizations say they have more power when they fight together for policy changes that benefit all the city’s coastal neighborhoods.

“We all have many concerns in common and we’ve found that we’re much more effective when we work together,” said Catharine Douglass, chairwoman of the La Jolla Town Council’s Public Safety Committee.

The coalition includes the Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach town councils, along with the La Jolla Community Planning Association, La Jolla Shores Association, La Jolla Parks & Beaches, the safety committee of the La Jolla Town Council, the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association and a Neighborhood Watch group for Pacific Beach and Mission Beach.

Though La Jolla, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach face different challenges and don’t always have the same priorities, members of the Coastal Coalition say they share some key concerns unique to the coast.

Those include coping with millions of tourists every summer, concerns about beach parties that get out of control and struggles with decaying infrastructure in some of San Diego’s oldest neighborhoods.

The City Council unanimously approved a complex scoring system and commitment to gather more feedback on projects from underserved areas

“Our needs are much greater than most other neighborhoods because of all the tourists, but we don’t get extra money from the city for that,” said Larry Webb, president of the Mission Beach Town Council.

Lobbying City Hall to change what it considers a funding disparity is among the issues the Coastal Coalition plans to tackle next, Webb said.

“We’re getting some respect from the city,” he said. “We’ll continue to explore other areas where we have similar concerns and solutions we want the city to consider.”

City Councilman Joe LaCava, who was a longtime La Jolla neighborhood leader before he was elected to the City Council in 2020, said coastal neighborhood leaders have met less formally in the past to discuss issues they have in common.

But he said those meetings were more about quietly comparing notes so they could be on the same page. The Coastal Coalition has taken things to a much higher level by voluntarily moving into the spotlight.

“This change may be a reflection of the people who are in charge of these groups now,” LaCava said. “They want to create a brand for themselves.”

LaCava, whose council District 1 includes La Jolla and Pacific Beach, said the new coalition is making his job easier on some key issues.

“Each of these communities has a little different flavor, so it’s great when they tell us clearly what they want with one collective voice,” he said. “It really is helpful when different groups come together to wrestle internally for what they want to fight for.”

The idea for the coalition began when a police captain gave some coastal neighborhood leaders a piece of advice in late 2021.

“He said to get all the communities speaking with the same voice,” Webb said “I started making phone calls and getting people together.”

Charlie Nieto, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council, said the Coastal Coalition is a fantastic idea that probably should have happened many years ago.

“For the longest time, coastal organizations operated on their own,” Nieto said. “Coming together like this makes us look like a stronger set of communities. And it does make us stronger.”

“Each of these communities has a little different flavor, so it’s great when they tell us clearly what they want with one collective voice. It really is helpful when different groups come together to wrestle internally for what they want to fight for.”

— San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava

Unifying San Diego’s coastal communities in one of the city’s nine council districts has been something redistricting commissions have tried to avoid, contending such a district could become too narrowly focused on coastal issues.

The most recent redistricting commission divided coastal neighborhoods more equally between Districts 1 and 2.

La Jolla had been in District 1 and the rest of the coast was in District 2. The 2021 redistricting commission shifted Pacific Beach into District 1, effective in 2022.

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who represents Ocean Beach and Mission Beach in District 2, declined to comment about the Coastal Coalition.

The primary motivation when the coalition formed was the city’s lack of an ordinance regulating street vendors, who opponents said were damaging the look and feel of beach boardwalks and coastal parks by clogging them and making them more chaotic.

When San Diego approved long-awaited comprehensive street vendor legislation last year, coastal leaders were frustrated that restrictions in the new law focusing largely on where vendors can operate wouldn’t take effect in their communities until the California Coastal Commission approved it, which was expected to take months.

Though the city of San Diego has rolled out new regulations on sidewalk vending effective June 22, La Jollans and residents of other coastal areas will need to wait longer — probably through the summer — to see more than two dozen rules take effect for their parks and streets.

Coming together as the Coastal Coalition for the first time, the neighborhood leaders lobbied to skip that approval process.

City officials and the Coastal Commission ultimately agreed to skip the state approval, allowing enforcement of the law in the coastal zone, which took effect at the beginning of this month.

“We were big motivators for the city to bypass the Coastal Commission and put the law into effect,” Webb said.

Vendors in La Jolla's Scripps Park on Jan. 31 (top) and Feb. 1, when enforcement of sidewalk vending rules began (bottom).
On Jan. 31, the La Jolla Light counted 13 vendors in Scripps Park (top). The next day, the first day of coastal enforcement of San Diego’s sidewalk vending ordinance, the same spot was empty (bottom).
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Next came a successful coalition-led effort to get the City Council last year to explicitly ban wood bonfires on city beaches unless they are inside designated fire rings.

Backers in La Jolla and elsewhere say the code changes will improve safety and air quality. Critics contend they will make beach bonfires too expensive for many and that an education campaign would have been better.

The goal is to reduce burn injuries from smoldering embers in sand, improve air quality in beach neighborhoods and clarify rules for beach users and police seeking to crack down on illegal fires.

Beach-goers sit around a small fire they built using wooden logs at La Jolla Shores in August last year.
(Adriana Heldiz / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The coalition was just taking shape in January 2022 when the city proposed to close nearly a dozen coastal parks and parking areas at night to help reduce gang activity, late-night parties, illegal bonfires and unauthorized camping.

The parks and parking lots, which span from La Jolla to Point Loma, would either be physically closed by installing new security gates or would have signs announcing the overnight closures.

Webb said the Coastal Coalition plans to lobby the Coastal Commission this spring to allow the closures to take effect.

The situation is similar with the city’s legislation for short-term vacation rentals, which the City Council approved in early 2021. The coalition plans to closely watch how it is enforced.

The coalition plans the same with the new vendor law.

“No matter how good the legislation, it won’t mean anything without enforcement,” Nieto said.

Group leaders acknowledge they may face moments when they have to take different sides on a key issue. What’s good for wealthier La Jolla isn’t necessarily always going to be good for more bohemian Ocean Beach or touristy Mission Beach, they said.

But, Nieto said, “we will prioritize common ground and stay away from issues where we have differences.” ◆