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MacKenzie Elmer's biweekly environmental news roundup (Mondays)
People are venturing out of their homes, which makes it a good time to take a look at some of the squeezes on parking this year, and some of the policies seeking to increase public access to San Diego’s most desirable places.
It’s post-pandemic summertime in San Diego, which means people are being extra “extra” about getting where they’re going. That makes it a good time to take a look at some of the squeezes on parking this year, and some of the policies seeking to increase public access to San Diego’s most desirable places.
Parking squeezes include: parking spaces lost to COVID-safe outdoor dining structures; a busy thoroughfare just sacrificed all its curb parking to a pair of protected bike lanes; and beach advocates are gearing up to battle private property owners illegally painting curbs red in beachside neighborhoods.
Let’s begin with the red curb itself, which signals an outright ban on parking. The paint is supposed to be there for a good reason. City officials told me the red curbs create space for traffic visibility and help the fire department reach buildings during an emergency. But Surfrider San Diego says its constantly combating illegally painted curbs by beach-neighborhood homeowners, which limits public access to the coast.
“It’s been almost a year since we exposed homeowners in La Jolla for painting public curbs red to try and thwart what should belong to the public for beach access and parking,” said Laura Walsh, a policy coordinator at Surfrider San Diego. “The process of exposing a red curb can be very bureaucratic.”
The city didn’t have a good grasp on the severity of that problem or how to fix it until recently. So there’s no telling how many beach parking spaces San Diegans might have lost over time.
If you want to paint the curb for anything other than a safety reason, it’s a $277 application. But the city discovered it can’t effectively discern between legal and illegally painted curbs in a 2019 audit. It took city traffic engineers about two hours to research whether a red curb followed the letter of the law. (On occasion, staff spent 20 hours on one curb.)
The city said Monday it had fulfilled all four of auditors’ recommendations to fix the problems with the city’s curb system, like training staff to use three existing engineers to could look up all the documentations to verify a red curb’s legality, Anthony Santacroce, a spokesman for the city, said in an email.
That was welcome news to Walsh, who said Surfrider will still be advocating for the city to make the inventory list public.
Though public access to the coast is a right written into California’s Constitution, in practice it’s really a privilege – one poorer San Diegans living inland without a car can’t always afford.
Which brings us to another policy I’m keeping an eye on: the 2021 regional transportation plan by the San Diego Association of Governments. It’s a 30-year plan that combines a bunch of other important plans for reducing global warming-inducing greenhouse gas emissions and environmental justice, to name a few.
At the height of the pandemic, I explored how San Diegans living inland without a car spend hours commuting on public transit to get to the beach. Even then, you can’t carry a surfboard that’s over six feet long inside a city bus.
At the time of the story, SANDAG’s director of regional planning, Coleen Clementson, acknowledged that beach access for underserved communities “is definitely not as strong as it could be.” The virus also killed an effort by Metropolitan Transit System (which runs all city buses) to raise billions for a ballot measure to expand and enhance public transit.
When that failed, there was hope SANDAG’s 30-year plan could include beach access initiatives. That plan finally dropped this month and the public can weigh in on it at a few public meetings Monday and Wednesday night at 6 p.m. (Here’s the Zoom link.)
Randy Torres-Van Vleck, who sits on SANDAG’s Transportation Equity Working Group, said Monday the group is still analyzing the entire plan but released initial comments to the agency in May. The group is excited about the plan for the Purple Line, a proposed underground commuter rail connecting the South Bay to Sorrento Valley, which Torres-Van Vleck hopes will be completed by 2035. (The project has also raised some red flags and criticism over the years.)
“That’ll improve overall mobility for our underserved communities,” Torres-Van Vleck said. But how well SANDAG’s long-term plan expands true inland-to-coast access remains to be seen.