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Coronado’s Bid to Bar Tour Buses Gets Stranded on the Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If diesel smoke was all that tour buses spewed, Coronado residents might consider backing down. It’s the annoying patter that they say they’re sick to death of--the running commentary, blared over the buses’ public address systems, lecturing paying passengers about one of San Diego County’s most exclusive communities.

“They slow down and they say, ‘Now look. This is where all the rich folks live. Well, now this is where the Duchess of Windsor lived. Now you see in the driveway the Jaguars or the Mercedeses or the BMWs,’ ” said Doris Pray, a grandmother whose 27 years in Coronado have made her an expert on tour bus prattle.

Such gawking is harassment, Pray and other Coronadans say. And these days--at least since September, when the Coronado City Council passed an ordinance to bar tour buses from most streets except state highways--it is against the law. At least, technically.

Other cities, like Beverly Hills, for example, have laws limiting tour bus routes. But Coronado’s attempt has a peculiar wrinkle.

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The state Coastal Commission is concerned that in limiting tour bus routes the city also has inadvertently limited coastal access in violation of the state Coastal Act. Until a ruling is obtained on that question, the Coastal Commission has stopped Coronado from enforcing its law.

But Coastal Commissioner David Malcolm says he already has made up his mind.

“You have a basically white community saying, Stay out!” said Malcolm, who has earned the enmity of some Coronadans by opposing several proposals he finds “exclusionary.” Malcolm, who is also a councilman in the largely Latino city of Chula Vista, says the Coronado sensibility goes something like this: “God forbid someone from out of town and from a minority race would come into our city.”

Coronado’s civic leaders deny that racism has tainted their policy-making. But they admit that ever since the tiny 6-square-mile island city seceded from San Diego in 1891, it has struggled to keep its distance from its larger mainland neighbor. Especially since 1969, when the elegant 2.23-mile San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge linked the two cities for the first time, residents have chafed at the resulting surge in traffic--and, some say, crime--on their orderly, tree-lined streets.

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In recent months, Malcolm says, city leaders seem to be working harder than ever to keep out-of-towners at bay.

This fall, when the California Transportation Commission considered scrapping the $1 toll on the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge, Coronado Mayor Mary Herron successfully lobbied to extend the toll until 1995. While it had more than met its original goal--paying back nearly $48 million in construction bonds--the toll had other merits, Herron argued. By discouraging sightseers, she said, it kept Coronado’s traffic in check.

Then the city came up with a plan to create residents-only decal parking zones on a section of shoreline near the North Island Naval Air Station. The city said it needed the zones because Navy employees’ vehicles often block residents from parking near their homes. But Malcolm and Coastal Commission Chairman Thomas W. Gwyn cried foul and are appealing the ordinance on the basis that it limits beach access.

Then came the tour bus ordinance, which would keep most commercial buses from traveling the city’s most scenic coastal routes. In addition, the ordinance would force buses that drop passengers at the area’s biggest tourist attraction, the historic Hotel del Coronado, to travel five extra miles down the Silver Strand peninsula simply to turn around.

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Coronado is not the first California city to try to regulate tour bus traffic. In 1976, sick of being overrun by star-gazers, Beverly Hills banned commercial sightseeing vehicles weighing three tons or more from traveling on most residential streets.

The ordinance, which withstood challenges in the state Supreme Court, sought to eliminate what it called “all nature of nuisances . . . such as trespassing, knocking on doors, littering, trampling on shrubbery and flower beds, using the shrubbery for toilet purposes, making loud and raucous noises, removing items as souvenirs and generally disturbing the peace and privacy of the residents, most of whom are not celebrities.”

When Malcolm heard that Coronado was going to follow suit, he says he could only wonder what would come next. “A wall around the city? A drawbridge?”

“What gives Coronado the right to say people can’t go up and down the waterfront?” he asked, rejecting as absurd the charge, leveled by some Coronadans, that he is a shill for the tour bus industry.

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Pray, who has made the anti-bus fight a personal crusade, says it is a matter of human decency. Given the buses’ long history of wrongdoing, she said, something has to change.

At a public hearing last week, tour bus operators said the ordinance will create an economic hardship, adding 15 minutes to their routes and forcing passengers to endure repetitive views. But when Coronado’s mayor suggested to her constituents that they increase their chances of winning Coastal Commission approval by considering alternatives to the ordinance, 11 residents rose, one by one, to say no.

For now, the buses continue to roll unrestricted through town, gushing well-rehearsed flackery as they go. Among the highlights: a church with Tiffany windows, the house where Wallace Simpson lived before she married the duke, and the spot where Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis filmed “Some Like It Hot” at the grand Hotel Del.

“It was the inspiration for the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz,” said Old Town Trolley tour bus driver Midge Crockett as she turned off the highway, hurtled down a quiet residential street and parked at a shorefront bus stop that the ordinance would abolish.

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“And this,” she said, “is the most beautiful beach in California.”


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