Makeover for historic WindanSea Beach is in the works

Every community has its meeting place, its gathering spot. For a core group of La Jollans, that place is and always has been the parking lot at the foot of Nautilus Street at WindanSea Beach. The area is both a refuge and a party spot, a singularly scruffy and unruly oasis in the midst of otherwise carefully planned neighborhoods.

But citizens groups and concerned individuals have decided, with the support of many surrounding residents, to clean up the parking lot’s act. They say it needs to be more inclusive, less unruly, better laid-out.

The forthcoming renovation of the bluffs will be the second phase of erosion control and maintenance plans that were first discussed in community workshops in 1997 and 1998. They follow from the first stage of development that provided new access stairways down to the beach.

According to Jim Neri, the landscape architect charged with beautifying the area, the primary changes likely to be made this time will be more aesthetic than structural. There will be no change to the current parking set-up, and Neri expects the all-day parking zones will remain. t of making the parking lot more inclusive,” said Neri, “while still maintaining its identity as a social gathering place.”

One change that will be made is the group will be installing a walkway between the front of the parked cars and the top of the bluffs. Currently, there is no set walkway, and visitors to the beach scuttle along a dirt path and often troop down eroded paths on the bluff itself to reach the sand and the famous WindanSea shack.

In addition to the path, Neri said there will no longer be a curb between the parking spaces and Neptune Street. There will also be bollards erected to keep cars from running onto the walkway. The bollards will be designed to commemorate famous La Jollans that have contributed to the surfing culture of the beach, primarily famous surfboard shapers such as Mike Diffenderfer and Carl Ekstrom.

This will be done by incorporating wooden spanners between the posts, the edges of which will be designed to resemble different rail designs - the edges of a surfboard that cut into the water on turns - in a subtle testament to those surfboard designers’ genius.

But, not everybody wants to see the parking lot change.

Thomas McMeekan moved in around the corner from WindanSea Beach in 1957. He remembers when the bluffs above the beach were covered in sparse grass and he and his friends could park their cars on the hill overlooking perfect, empty surf. In the nearly half a century that has passed since his childhood, McMeekan has seen the beach change beyond all recognition. He wants to see the changes stop.

“I would rather have it be a natural place, with the bluffs, than have it be sculpted and landscaped and turned into a virtual tourist mecca,” said McMeekan. “This is one of the last bastions of the local beach.”

Though he supports some improvements to the car park, McMeekan said he would rather see changes made that benefit elderly people, such as covered, shaded areas. He said the idea of erecting bollards representing WindanSea’s surfing pioneers goes against the very ethos of the beach.

“Most of those people,” said McMeekan, “they don’t hang out here because they don’t want to be stroked. They’re not in the dog show. ... If you want to honor them, honor them, but half of those guys that are good shapers, they wouldn’t want to have some edifice erected to them at WindanSea Beach. They want to enjoy it as it was, when there was good surf without a bunch of turkeys hanging out.”

Neri said there are also plans to include a loading and unloading area slightly to the south of the main lot at the foot of Nautilus Street, at what is known as the penalty box, for people that just want to unload gear or people from their car before searching around for parking. There will also be improved access for the disabled and parking areas for bicycles and motorcycles.

Neri said there will hardly be any planting except for some very low plants to green up the area.

Neri said he is nearing the end of negotiations with the city to complete the plans for the work. He intends to have the drawings done for the improvements by the fall and that the project is awarded by this winter so that his team can start construction by next spring.

However, he said that this timeline was optimistic and that the Friends of WindanSea are actively searching for donors to contribute towards the landscaping. Interested parties can contact Neri at Neri Landscape Architecture, (858) 459-2080.