Community works to protect La Jolla bike path from development

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■ Dedicating open space in San Diego:

By Pat Sherman

Members of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) and La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. (LJP&B) advisory groups are asking city officials to protect a sliver of land used as a bike path from any future development.

The deadline to dedicate the strip as open space without cost to the city or normal bureaucratic hurdles is Dec. 31.

Nestled behind a residential area spanning from Nautilus Street in WindanSea to south Bird Rock, the Fay Avenue Bike Path has served as a popular respite for runners, cyclists and walkers for decades. Framed by eucalyptus trees, it features sweeping ocean vistas and an array of native flora and fauna.

The trail, which follows the former San Diego, Pacific Beach & La Jolla Railroad line, was originally set aside by the city for a once-planned southward expansion of Fay Avenue — a project the community has since soundly rejected.

Though the land has been “designated” as open space by the city, under such designation the San Diego City Council could still vote to use the land for an alternate purpose, or sell it to a private developer.

However, if the contiguous parcels were to become “dedicated” open space, a two-thirds majority public vote would be required to transfer the land for an alternate use.

During LJP&B’s October meeting, the organization unanimously approved a motion to support efforts to make the Fay Avenue Bike Path dedicated open space.

“Historically, it’s part of who we are,” said LJP&B Board President Patrick Ahern, who uses the path for runs. “It keeps the soul of La Jolla intact.”

The idea to dedicate the Fay Avenue Bike Path and other open space throughout San Diego was born out of a city exercise conducted in the early ’90s, during which city staff created a list of about 16,000 acres it would like dedicated as open space.

“Then they realized how much it would cost,” LJCPA Vice President Joe LaCava recalled. “They said, ‘We don’t have the money to do this, let’s just wait.’ ”

A bill authored by state Sen. Christine Kehoe in 2007 resulted in the conversion of 6,600 acres on the city’s list from “designated” to “dedicated” open space. However, city staff removed the Fay Avenue Bike Path from consideration at that time.

Kehoe authored similar legislation this year (SB 1169) that would give the city council the ability to dedicate more than 11,000 acres as open space in one fell swoop.

The legislation could save the city as much as $2 million in land surveys, engineering costs and staff time normally associated with the process. However, the city council must act before the legislation’s Dec. 31 deadline to take advantage of the cost savings.

LaCava said the process of dedication would give the land “a much greater level of protection.”

However, dedicating land as open space is no easy feat, particularly when adjacent property owners have encroached upon the land, as many have along certain stretches of the Fay Avenue Bike Path. Driveways intersect the path at several points, and the La Jolla Methodist Church has a playground on one portion of the land.

If dedicated, property owners would likely have to vacate their encroachments, or buy the land they are on.

“In a ‘designated’ state it gives the city more flexibility about how and when they deal with the encroachments,” LaCava said. “While it’s unfortunate, it does kind of make sense to deal with those encroachments on a case-by-case basis.”

The parcels along the bike path are under the auspices of the city’s Real Estate Assets department — which has been less than willing to relinquish its control via a dedication.

Responding to the community’s concerns, Lane MacKenzie, a real estate asset manager with the city, said the bike path was not included for consideration because “staff was tasked with reviewing only those properties that were acquired for open space purposes.

“The Fay Avenue Bike Path was originally acquired for street purposes and is still maintained and managed by the Street Division,” he wrote.

“All the parcels being considered are to be recorded by Assessor Parcel Number (APN). As the Fay Avenue site is still a dedicated street, it does not have a parcel number, and is identified as right-of-way. To be created as a parcel, Fay Avenue would have to be formally vacated, surveyed and then a parcel can be created.”

A private, non-profit group known as San Diego Canyonlands began promoting the citywide open space dedication process last year, and has established a website with maps and details about all the parcels considered for dedication.

In September of 2011, Canyonlands representatives began visiting community planning groups throughout the city to obtain their buy- in for dedicating the parcels.

City staff then began to examine the list, deciding whether it could support dedication. The Fay Avenue Bike Path was pulled from consideration, without explanation, LaCava said.

“They didn’t really start on that effort until August or September (of 2012),” he said. “Some people were disappointed that we didn’t even have the opportunity to talk about it ... to see if we could come to a meeting of the minds. It was just summarily crossed off.”

During an Oct. 17 meeting of the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee (LU&H), of which District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner is vice chair, Lightner added the Fay Avenue Bike Path back onto the list and questioned why city staff ignored the recommendation of the planning groups, cutting the list from 11,000 to 6,000 acres.

Lightner and fellow committee members agreed to send all 11,000 acres to the full city council for a vote — including Fay Avenue and other parcels suggested by community planning groups. LU&H members further instructed city staff to provide an explanation for why it rejected the parcels.

The committee also asked the City Attorney to provide an opinion on whether bike-ways may be located on dedicated lands and what legal issues might arise when property owners have encroachments on land that is dedicated.

“It’s a little unclear what’s going to happen; there’s less than four weeks for city staff to do all that work,” LaCava said. “If we don’t get included in this big batch, there’s still an opportunity to come back next year and make the case again and petition the city.”

A representative from Lightner’s office said the councilmember will work to obtain a parcel number and ensure that the path is dedicated in the future, most likely when the new mayoral administration is in place.