La Jolla Town Council public safety forum addresses homeless encampments and e-bikes

Catharine Douglass, Jessica Thrift, Bryan Brecht, Aaron Bothwell and Lonnie Stephens speak at a La Jolla Town Council forum.
La Jolla Neighborhood Watch captain Catharine Douglass, San Diego police Officer Jessica Thrift, SDPD Lt. Bryan Brecht, Fire-Rescue official Aaron Bothwell and lifeguard Lt. Lonnie Stephens attend a La Jolla Town Council public safety forum Sept. 14.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Police and other officials hear questions arising from San Diego’s new ordinance restricting encampments and a La Jolla accident in which a 14-year-old bicyclist was injured.


Homeless encampments and e-bikes took center stage at a La Jolla Town Council public safety forum Sept. 14 at the La Jolla Recreation Center.

Representatives of the San Diego Police Department, Fire-Rescue Department and lifeguard services, as well as local Neighborhood Watch captains and representatives of elected officials were on hand to talk about their duties and answer questions from the audience.

In light of San Diego’s new ordinance restricting homeless encampments and an accident this month near Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla in which a student riding an electric bicycle was injured in a crash with a car, many of the questions centered on those two themes.


The City Council voted 5-4 on June 13 to adopt a controversial policy to ban homeless encampments on public property when shelter beds are available. People can be cited or arrested if they refuse an available shelter bed.

Encampments also are banned in many areas even if no shelter beds are available — including two blocks from existing shelters or schools and in all city parks, riverbeds, waterways, trolley stops and transportation hubs.

According to the ordinance, a first offense results in a warning. A ticket is given for the second, and a third triggers an arrest.

Data confirm that police focused on Balboa Park during the first four weeks of last month.

Sept. 14, 2023

Stella Maris Academy Principal and Town Council trustee Francie Moss expressed concern about the continued presence of homeless people near the school at 7654 Herschel Ave. Stella Maris is the parochial school for Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church.

“We often find them very close during the day, multiple days in a row,” she said.

Last October, a homeless man was arrested on suspicion of stabbing the Rev. Pat Mulcahy, pastor of Mary, Star of the Sea, outside Stella Maris after being asked to leave the school parking lot, where he was keeping his personal items.

A suspect was in custody after a reported stabbing attack on the pastor of Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church outside Stella Maris Academy in La Jolla the morning of Oct. 18.

Oct. 18, 2022

Moss said at the time that it was the latest in a string of issues involving homeless people near the campus, including some who screamed obscenities and confronted parents. She said safety measures had been gradually implemented, costing the school almost $100,000.

During the Sept. 14 forum, Emily Piatanesi, representing the office of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, responded that “encampments are not an individual that looks like they may be unhoused walking in the area.” She added that the city is installing signs in applicable areas indicating that encampments are prohibited.

San Diego police officers said an encampment is defined by the city municipal code as “one or more temporary, makeshift or hand-built structures not intended for long-term continuous occupancy, including tents, that are used to shelter one or more persons or their belongings and that are not authorized by the property owner. Encampment includes any camp paraphernalia and personal property associated with or located in or around the structures or tents.”

Police Lt. Bryan Brecht said the best way to report an encampment is through the city’s Get It Done app. The typical time for officers to respond to an encampment reported on the app is 14-17 days.

“The rollout and implementation of the ordinance is going to take some time,” Piatanesi said. “It’s not going to change overnight.”

La Jolla Town Council President Treger Strasberg leads the group's September meeting.
La Jolla Town Council President Treger Strasberg leads the group’s September meeting.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)


On Sept. 5, a 14-year-old Muirlands Middle School student was riding his electric bike to school in a marked bike lane when he and a car collided amid heavy traffic.

The driver of the car was heading east on Nautilus Street and was making a left turn northbound onto Via Valverde, according to San Diego police Capt. Erwin Manansala.

The student suffered broken bones in his hand and foot.

The city of San Diego aims to reassess the area for ‘quick-build improvements.’

Sept. 15, 2023

In discussing what can be done to promote e-bike safety in general, some Town Council trustees argued that a lack of regulations and requirements, similar to a driver’s license, have fueled a proliferation of e-bikes and, in some cases, their unsafe use.

“It’s just like a motorcycle, with a different propeller,” said trustee Peter Wulff. Local law enforcement needs to “enforce vehicle ordinances” on e-bikes, similar to those on other motorized vehicles, he said.

Helmets are required for anyone on a Class 3 electric bicycle, which is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, Officer Anthony Obregon of the San Diego Police Department’s Traffic Division told the La Jolla Light last September. Those bikes can reach top speed of 28 mph, he said.

There also are Class 1 and 2 electric bikes that can reach top speed of 20 mph. Helmets are required for those bikes for riders younger than 18, but not for adults.

Obregon said electric bikes can surpass their top speeds on a steep downhill road like Nautilus Street and that bicyclists “have to drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions of the roadway. It’s no different than a car.”

Brecht said at the Town Council forum that police get “lots of complaints” and that officers are enforcing the rules of the road when they observe violations.

Police Community Relations Officer Jessica Thrift said she is working with the Scripps Health system to do educational seminars for parents about the rules for e-bikes and how to keep their children safe.

“Parents are buying their kids these e-bikes, so the whole point is to educate them,” Thrift said. But, she added, “there are generally 10 people” at such seminars.

She said she would be willing to hold one in La Jolla but would hope for better attendance.

Town Council trustees unanimously approved a motion to write a letter to Gloria and City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, requesting that they “strengthen the regulations on e-bikes that are in conformance with or similar to what you would have with other forms of [motorized] transportation.”

Town Council President Treger Strasberg said she would draft the letter for the board to approve at a future meeting.

Other issues

In addition to e-bikes and encampments, issues raised during the forum included speeding on La Jolla Parkway, unsafe behavior by drivers on other La Jolla streets, cliff rescues along the La Jolla coast, how to start a Neighborhood Watch program and more.

Strasberg provided a list of topics that will be covered at each monthly meeting in the coming year, based on comments during an August forum, feedback from residents and more (see below).

Trustees and members of the public put forth what they’d like the council to cover, ranging from sidewalks and roads to Neighborhood Watch groups to community involvement in nonprofit events.

Aug. 12, 2023

The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Learn more at

Upcoming La Jolla Town Council meeting topics

October: Seals, sea lions and the coastline

November: Trash and public spaces

December: No meeting

January: City update and community concerns

February: Public policy and elections

March: Non-seated La Jolla groups (local groups on which the Town Council does not have a seat)

April: Accessory dwelling units and short-term rentals

May: Summer concerns

June: Update on committees

July: Membership appreciation ◆