By Dave Schwab
The city says red striping of narrow streets for emergency access in La Jolla’s Hillside Drive neighborhood off Torrey Pines Road is a done deal.
Some neighbors consider it a raw deal and want to see it undone.
“Someone on Valdes Drive (the dead-end street crowning the neighborhood) came up with some apocalyptic story, without any documentation, that some emergency vehicle couldn’t get through to their house,” said neighbor Kevin Kinsella who’s spearheading opposition to neighborhood red striping.
Claiming that lone complaint “set off the most amazing sort of snowball effect,” Kinsella said meetings between disgruntled neighbors, the fire department and City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office over the past few months has culminated in red stripes up and down the streets that he characterized as “God awful” and an “abomination.”
Red striping, claims Kinsella, has forced residents to drive down the middle of the street threatening head-on collisions. He alleges striping has been done sloppily, looks unsightly, and has effectively displaced parking forcing residents to park further away from their homes and walk uphill which is itself a health hazard.
Two of Kinsella’s neighbors agree with him.
“I think the fire department has gone overboard to be fair to everyone,” said Jim Carlisle who lives on Valdes. Carlisle said the handful of residents near him support his view that, “It’s critical for the fire department to get here: It is very common that they couldn’t.”
“The solution that’s been imposed is nuts,” contends neighbor Dan Masters who concurs with the view that red striping channels vehicles into the middle of the street making intersections more dangerous.
“It seems to me the (parking) problem was an irritant more than a serious problem,” he said. “But the solution was imposed with a sledgehammer rather than a flyswatter. It is going to result in someone’s serious injury — if not death — sooner or later.”
Safety first is the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s response.
“We have not changed our position that red curbs are needed to ensure the safety of the public and our crews who need immediate access when responding to potentially life and death emergencies of residents in the area,” said the fire department in a statement. “We have worked with the community to ensure the required fire lane markings are positioned to provide maximum on-street parking while also ensuring the minimum width required for emergency vehicle access. At this point our decisions stand and we consider the matter resolved and closed.”
Councilwoman Lightner’s office sent an email to The Light stating her position. "I worked with both the neighbors and the Fire-Rescue Department to preserve as much street parking as possible while ensuring that emergency vehicles have proper access to this neighborhood to protect public safety." Lightner noted the Fire-Rescue Department did a physical demonstration last year driving through the area in a fire engine to show how much clearance was needed to ensure proper emergency vehicle access.
“This (red striping) decision was not made lightly,” said Lightner. “It was ultimately the Mayor’s office and the Fire-Rescue Department that made the final call.”
In the end, Lightner said the Fire Department decided “they couldn’t allow emergency vehicles to be blocked by parked cars – it was just too great of a public safety issue for them.”
The Councilwoman said San Diego's minimum width requirements for emergency vehicle access are actually far narrower than accepted standards used in many other cities which require much wider fire lanes.