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Red curbs stir up spat among La Jolla neighbors

What started out as a La Jolla neighborhood parking squabble has culminated in controversy over red curbs painted on both sides of a narrow street for a fire lane.

The recent red paint on the first 150 feet on both sides of Vista de la Playa, a 500-foot-long cul de sac in the Beach-Barber Tract, is a precedent-setting event, claim Melissa and Pat Cunningham, who live at 354 Vista de la Playa.

“If this stands up, they (city) would need to go around to every street under 20 feet in La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Point Loma and Ocean Beach and do the same thing to them — have a fire lane on both sides,” Pat Cunningham said.

“The crux of it is, not only did you take my parking — you took away our rights,” said Melissa Cunningham.

The situation led the Cunninghams to KUSI’s Michael Turko, who did a recent TV spot on their street situation titled “Red Curb Controversy.”

The red curbs have also led to the red-flagging of a “mystery memo” allegedly sent by First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner in January 2009. That memo states “parking should be prohibited on both sides of Vista de la Playa for the first 150 feet thus allowing the street to meet minimum fire access code.”

“I did not write this memo nor did this memo originate from my office,” said Lightner in a June 3 letter sent to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith in which she requests an investigation into the memo’s source.

Lightner added the mystery memo is not saved on any of her office computers, is not signed or initialed and contains numerous typos and examples of language and phrasing “I do not customarily use in any of my writing.”

The Cunninghams say the roots of their neighborhood’s parking controversy go back more than two years to when there was lots of construction on Vista de la Playa. They said a neighbor, James Bashor, Sr., who lives in a mansion at the end of the cul de sac, complained that a “bottleneck” near the Cunningham residence denied proper street access.

Bashor and his attorney, Robert Ottilie, declined to comment on the situation.

The Cunningham’s said “unusual claims” against their property by the city soon followed. They said their (13-year-old) wall was challenged as encroaching into the public right-of-way. It was claimed they had an illegal second story on their home. And now there’s a determination that an existing red-curb (no parking) fire lane on the opposite side of Vista de la Playa needed to be extended to their side.

Responding to the Cunninghams in an e-mail, Gina Coburn, the City Attorney’s communications director said, “This is a public street and is owned by the public for public use. There is no ‘right’ to parking arising out of owning a home on a public street. As to what, if anything, should be striped — it is a public safety issue and the decision is made by the Fire Department.”