Park or Parking? Coastal Panel to Rule on Pacific Beach Strip

Times Staff Writer

South of Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, from Garnet Avenue to Thomas Avenue, lies about the last place in San Diego where people can drive right up to the beach and cruise along the street, or just admire the ocean from behind the wheel of a parked car.

The strip along Ocean Boulevard used to be six blocks long. But north of the pier to Diamond Street, the tire tracks and parking places gave way last spring to grassy knolls and wooden benches, now a quiet haven for sprinting children and resting retirees.

Facing the ocean at Garnet Avenue, "you can look to your right and look to your left and it's like night and day," said Mikel Haas, an aide to City Councilman Mike Gotch.

For more than a year, the pier has separated the two worlds, but they're about to collide.

The city and the Pacific Beach Town Council want to complete their six-block development of the beachfront under a master plan adopted in 1982. The California Coastal Commission is scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to approve the second half of the plan, which would remove 43 oceanfront parking spaces and extend the grassy park with palm trees, a walkway and bicycle path south to Hornblend Street after this summer and to Thomas Avenue by 1990.

The plan would add some more remote parking spaces to the badly congested area, and a Coastal Commission staff planner said she would recommend that the city create three spaces on nearby side streets for each one removed by the development.

But Joann Mockbee is trying to organize community resistance to the plan.

"Where did man get the idea to put grass everywhere?" she asked. "I see this as kind of a last frontier."

Mockbee, who eats her lunch in her car at the beach whenever she can, wants residents to speak against the city's plan at the commission's public hearing, at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Shelter Island Marina Inn. But she has avoided soliciting many of the denizens of her favorite site, because she also wants to wipe out the drinking, loitering and cruising that haunt the strip.

"That's why I haven't put up signs all over the area," she said. "I don't want all those guys showing up."

The tattooed, beer-chugging regulars may be Mockbee's most visible potential allies, but they aren't the only ones. The community was split down the middle when the plan was first approved three years ago, and some residents still would rather have adequate parking than a park.

Daisy Jenner, the 62-year-old manager of the Pacific View Motel at Ocean Boulevard and Diamond Street, still burns over the spaces lost when the city built the first half of the park right outside the motel's office window.

"If you live here, you can't drive your car because you lose your parking space," she said. Because tourists also have trouble finding a space, she said, "it's as if they're closing the beach off to everybody but the (oceanfront) residents. It's a little unfair to the rest of San Diego."

Jenner also has a more personal reason to resent the park. A landscaped hillock in front of the hotel rises high enough to block her view of the sand, and at one point a palm tree out front threatened to obscure the sunset.

"That would have knocked off the whole view," she said. "But luckily it died."

The grass north of Crystal Pier was emptier and quieter than the concrete to the south Wednesday afternoon, and some visitors could only laugh at the idea that a strip of parked cars would be preferable to their rest spots.

"I'd take off my shoes and sit on the grass any day," said Touch Cooper, a cabdriver who parked his taxi illegally at the end of Diamond Street to enjoy his avocado sandwich and papaya juice in the park. "The more grass, the better in a city like this."

But Richard Delgado, who brought his family from Brawley to enjoy the park, said there should be room for the concrete beach environment as well as the grass.

"It's a tradition," he said. "You've got to keep a lot of old with the new."

Traditionalists were out in full force near the end of Grand Avenue, where Shannon Conway and Sonny Johnson sat alongside two cans of Budweiser on the hood of a battered '67 Datsun pickup.

"This place is more kicked back," Conway said, then gestured to the north. "It's more formal over there." Johnson denied that cars slowly passing by were cruising the street.

"All they're doing is looking for a parking spot," he said.

Ellen Lirley, a Coastal Commission staff planner, said the commission considered the lack of parking in the area to be a major drawback of the park project. But she said the commission staff is recommending approval of the park because turning it down would mean no improvements would be made on the beachfront. The master plan also includes a concrete seawall south of the pier to prevent dune erosion.

"All of us (planners) have conflicts within ourselves about it," she said. "(But) taken as a whole, it seems to have more going for it than it has going against."

To Haas, Gotch's aide, the success of the first half of the park, which replaced "the ugliest beachfront in San Diego County," proves the need for the second half. Gotch proposed the original plan to the City Council.

"That area should be for people, not cars," Haas said. "They can't drive up to the sand and watch the waves, but they can get out and enjoy the park and the fresh air."

But Bill Graham, a telephone installer who usually heads for the oceanfront parking area on his lunch break, generally enjoys more than the ocean air after he strips down to his swimsuit in his front seat.

"I do about half an hour of swimming, then I go to my next job," he said. "My office cracks up when I tell them."

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