San Diego beach areas use secret weapon to limit parking: illegally painted red curbs

An illegally painted red curb in La Jolla Shores.
An illegally painted red curb in La Jolla Shores. Last weekend, city crews painted over 154 feet of such curbs after receiving complaints.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

The longtime San Diego battle between beachgoers and the neighborhoods where they park has risen to a new level this summer in La Jolla Shores, where someone illegally painted red a 150-foot stretch of curb to keep visitors from parking there.

City crews repaint 10 to 25 illegal red curbs each year, mostly in beach areas, but also in congested neighborhoods such as Hillcrest and North Park.

But it’s rare for residents frustrated by throngs of visitors to illegally paint the curb of an entire block red, as someone did on the north side of Camino del Collado in La Jolla Shores.

The Surfrider Foundation, which discovered the illegal paint job thanks to a tip from a surfer, says illegal red curbs have become an equity issue, because wealthy residents are making it harder for ordinary people to access the beach.

“Just because you’re lucky enough to be an elite coastal homeowner doesn’t mean you have a right to better coastal access,” said Kristin Brinner, a Surfrider volunteer. “There should be equitable access to the beach.”

While it’s easy to empathize with beach-area residents whose neighborhoods get flooded with people who are sometimes discourteous, Brinner stressed that residents were aware of the proximity to the beach when they rented or bought there.


People who illegally paint red curbs — which typically happens secretly and late at night — often get away with it for long periods because the city hasn’t taken a proactive approach to enforcement.

Red curbs mean no parking at any time.

A city spokesman said San Diego typically responds only to complaints about illegally painted red curbs, which average about 200 per year.

The lion’s share of complaints end up being erroneous, because the city hasn’t compiled maps of every curb that is legitimately painted red. Such a map would allow residents to go online to determine when curbs have been illegally painted red.

City spokesman Anthony Santacroce said officials do keep careful track of where red curbs have been approved.

“While there is no public-facing database or map currently being developed, the Transportation and Storm Water Department keeps an extensive records system that is used to check for the legality of the painted curbs,” he said.

City crews repainted the illegal red curb on Camino del Collado last weekend, shortly after Surfrider alerted them to the situation. But repainting can sometimes take as long as 90 says, Santacroce said.

Brinner said Surfrider estimates the curb was illegally red for roughly a month, shrinking the available beach parking in La Jolla Shores during one of the busiest times of the year.

Illegally painting a curb is a misdemeanor. The city couldn’t provide data on how many arrests there have been for the activity.

There have been reports that some local stores specialize in providing paint that matches the shade of red that the city uses.

Santacroce said the illegal jobs can usually be spotted because they are less neatly done and the paint is fuzzier on the edges of the curb.

Brinner said she thinks it would be difficult for someone to tell the difference and have the confidence to park along a red curb, which typically leads to a car being towed, not just a ticket.

“It would have fooled me,” she said of the illegal red curb in La Jolla Shores.

A related issue, Brinner said, is the city approving more legitimate red curbs in coastal areas in response to resident requests.

One example, she said, is in La Jolla Farms near Black’s Beach, where Surfrider spent two years fighting what she characterized as an excessive number of red curbs.

The city recently restored 11 spots that had been painted red, but Brinner said the long and complex fight was frustrating and required help from the California Coastal Commission.

“I can see why people don’t bother,” she said. “People in La Jolla are slowly chipping away at public parking.”

Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.