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Issues over an alley just west of Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia are again resurfacing for neighbors sharing it with businesses and restaurants. Photo by Aaron Burgin
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Neighborhood issues resurface over Leucadia alleys

ENCINITAS — It’s not easy to find Tim Calver’s Europa Avenue home.

That’s because it really isn’t on Europa.

The Calvers live along an alley just west of Coast Highway that bears a Europa Avenue address. While finding the home can be a pain, Tim Calver said that is the least of his family’s concerns, and for others who live along the stretch of alleyway.

Less than 100 feet away from his property is the back of a busy pizzeria with an outdoor patio, which gets packed with boisterous customers late into the evening hours and disturbs the family’s peace and quiet.

Delivery trucks making their rounds idle in the alley that serves as their primary ingress and egress, sometimes blocking the cars of the family and customers of his wife Carrie’s small home massage business.

And most recently, the city approved a request by a private club moving into the peach colored building to serve alcohol to its members, a request vociferously opposed by the neighbors.

Calver and his fellow neighbors are fed up, and have demanded the city do something about the clashes between residential life and commercial demands along the Europa alley, which he said should not be treated like an alley at all.

“The city needs to change the rules and start treating the alley more like a street,” the high-school journalism teacher said. “Because that’s what it is,” he added.

Alley wars 

The alley wasn’t always an alley. Decades ago it was known as Flora Street before the street was abandoned and converted to its current status.

While commercial and residential have always existed on both sides of the alley, residents contend that the clashes between the two were kept at bay by the types of businesses that were in the commercial spaces; quaint restaurants and low-key shops that came to be synonymous with the laid-back vibe Leucadia was known for.

But things in recent years have changed, as many of the venerable vendors and businesses along Coast Highway 101 have closed up shop, and have given way, in some cases, to busier restaurants, bars and other businesses.

Calver points to the end of the recession as the start of the change.

“Once that happened, morals went out of the way, and greed began to dictate the decision making,” Calver said.

Kathleen Lees, a longtime Leucadia resident and a member of the Leucadia-Encinitas Town Council, said the newer businesses have created greater strains on that balance, from larger delivery trucks to noisier patrons.

“Rather than having little businesses or maybe houses, they (the city) are having large businesses with trucks…that block the street,” she said.

The Leucadia Specific Plan actually requires businesses to have a delivery area if the business has underground parking, but because of flooding concerns those areas have to have a hump to control the flow of water during rain events. That hump renders the delivery area unusable for larger trucks, sending them to the alley, where they are legally allowed to idle for 20 minutes, Lees said.

The same issues arose in November, when residents appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of a commercial-residential project known as “The Beacon’s.”

From a practical perspective, Calver said the impact of trucks stopped in the alley can be as minor as an inconvenience, such as blocking a vehicle of a resident who is trying to make it to work, or potentially life threatening.

In 2013, Calver said he had a low-blood pressure event that caused him to pass out. Because of the difficulty finding the home’s address and the traffic in the alley, he estimates that it delayed emergency personnel by five minutes.

“What if that were a serious emergency?” Calver opined. “Five to 10 minutes could mean the spread of a fire, it could mean a robber getting away, it could mean enough time for a person to lose their life.”

Calver said the heart of the problem is that the city treats the Europa alley like an alley. He wants to see the city potentially re-establish the roadway as a street on the city map, which could eliminate some of the issues.

“This is our one and only entrance and exit to our homes,” Calver said. “This should be labeled and maintained as a street.”

Struggle for a solution

If the parking and access issues weren’t enough, Calver and others said that the social and nuisance issues that some of the larger businesses and restaurants have brought along with them are sometimes unbearable.

Employees of the Pandora’s Pizza, he said, talk loudly in the underground garage on their breaks, which reverberates right into his home. Drunken patrons, unwilling to wait for a bathroom to become available, urinate in the alley, not knowing that children can see their actions from their bedroom windows.

The outdoor patio noise from Pandora’s can keep them up at night. Patrons leave cigarette butts in the alley.

Calver fears that many of these issues will become amplified with the entry of the Leucadia Club, the private social club that received city approval after the City Council stalemated on an appeal of the planning commission’s OK.

Two of the council members who voted to uphold the commission’s decision believed the city had provided enough conditions that would minimize the impact the club would have on the adjacent neighbors.

But residents who spoke at the meeting said it was still inappropriate to locate that business so close to a residential neighborhood, and give them a permit to serve alcohol.

“Above all, I felt that putting a mostly mens private club with fogged windows directly in front of my family was inappropriate,” Calver said. “It made no sense for the group to spend so much money on a liquor license for their members to drink as part of their meetings.

“It is about the fact that the city keeps overriding the safety and well being of residents in general,” he said.

Calver said that he is considering filing a lawsuit to block the approval of the alcohol permit.

City Councilman Tony Kranz, who supported the Leucadia Club’s request, said that while he agrees with neighbors that the city must do something about the interface between commercial and residential properties along the alleys, the Leucadia Club wasn’t going to create the issues they are concerned with.

“I don’t think the facts bear that out,” Kranz said. “We have conditioned them that they have to be closed by 11 p.m., they can’t take deliveries in the alleyway, they have to seal their windows. The club has become the central focus when the reality is that these problems have existed for quite some time.”

Kranz said the city is committed to exploring the issues in the alleys, which he said have reached a boiling point. During the Dec. 14 meeting, Kranz requested the city staff return with potential solutions to some of the issues.

“I asked about what rights the city has to regulate certain business activity in the alley way, because I share the concern of the residents that some of the activity is creating situations that could impact public safety,” Kranz said. “I think it is important to do everything we can to resolve the conflicts that are there.”