Beach issues take center stage at budget town hall meeting in La Jolla

Issues at places like Marine Street Beach were discussed at a budget town hall meeting in La Jolla on May 6.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The public forum was intended to gather input as the city of San Diego prepares a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1.


Beach issues, especially safety, were a common thread at a city of San Diego budget town hall meeting May 6 at the La Jolla Recreation Center.

As part of the annual budget process, each City Council member held forums in their districts to hear the public’s priorities — “what you are happy with, what you are not happy with,” said Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla and communities such as Carmel Valley, Pacific Beach and Torrey Pines.

“The city’s budget is really a statement of the city’s priorities and a plan to address those priorities,” said San Diego Independent Budget Analyst Charles Modica. “We want to ensure that we have adequate public safety officers, we want to build and maintain infrastructure like streets and storm drains, we want to provide community and cultural offerings like parks and libraries, we also want to address the city’s homelessness problem. …

“But we have limited resources to address all those priorities, so the budget is the key document that guides what we plan to do to [meet] those priorities.”

During public comments, several people in attendance advocated increased funding for beach-related issues and enforcement of beach-related laws.

One speaker said spring break starts the last week of April and beach patrol teams don’t ramp up until mid-May, leading to underage drinking and fights at places like Marine Street Beach. She said she would like to see increased funding for the beach team to start work earlier in the year.

Area resident Cynthia Chasan said “no one is enforcing the laws down there [at Marine Street]” and recommended funding for overtime at the start of the spring. She also requested that signs with city rules and regulations be posted on lifeguard chairs so the information is visible on the beach.

Others sought funding for more enforcement of alcohol and beach fire laws.

In December, the city of San Diego passed a ban on wood beach fires outside of city fire rings by rewriting a vague section of the municipal code. The only beach fires allowed outside of designated rings are those fueled by propane, which leave no dangerous embers and produce less smoke.

Yet, according to some at the budget town hall, there is still confusion among public safety personnel about the beach fire rules and additional steps are needed to make sure the rules are properly enforced.

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava leads a budget town hall meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center on May 6.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

While some speakers advocated seeking more funding from outside sources such as the state and federal governments, La Jolla Shores resident Mary Coakley Munk argued that improved money management would be more beneficial.

“We could do twice what we do with the money we have. The problem is … certain departments get [a certain percentage] off the top so they have no incentive for them to keep the price of anything down,” she said, citing drainage issues at a restroom facility at Kellogg Park.

“They spent $77,000 in design for a drain and had $23,000 left to do the project at the time, so they didn’t have enough,” Coakley Munk said. “It takes the city three to four times as long as it would any other project and costs three to four times as much.”

But she did say additional funding is needed in the spring and summer to clean the restrooms at shoreline parks.

Area resident Mike McCormack echoed the sentiment about the bathrooms. “If your bathroom that you use at City Hall … were kept the way these bathrooms are kept in coastal parks, you would be reading the riot act. It’s a mess,” he said.

He suggested contracting out cleaning services so city employees would not be stretched as thin.

Resident Bill Robbins noted that fences along coastal parks “are falling down” and questioned how much money would be spent on enforcement of the upcoming year-round closure of Point La Jolla.

“This needs to be fixed in the budget now,” Robbins said.

LaCava responded that he would look into how to most efficiently repair or repaint the fences. He did not address the Point La Jolla question.

Chasan asked how many city employees are still working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and whether there is any accountability to make sure they are working full time.

Additional comments focused on how to better regulate sidewalk vendors operating in shoreline parks.

In coming weeks, City Council members will share their priorities and recommended modifications to the mayor’s $5.1 billion budget proposal. Soon after, the office of the independent budget analyst will review the recommended changes and submit a final budget to the council for a vote in mid-June. The next fiscal year starts July 1. ◆