‘This was all to protect my kids’: Resident behind ‘Slow down’ graffiti discusses motives and backlash

“I’m not setting out to be a criminal, I’m a good person,” says Bird Rock resident Nicole Hadfield, whose recent actions have become notorious in La Jolla.

Beginning earlier this year, she spray-painted the words “Slow down” and then wrote them in chalk on the streets surrounding her home, including La Jolla Boulevard.


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Until now, her identity was known only to her neighbors and friends — and officers with the San Diego Police Department.

But Hadfield spoke with the La Jolla Light last week about her motives and experiences in the “Slow down” saga.

The lifelong resident of Bird Rock, whose mother still lives in the house she grew up in, said she has seen speeding on neighborhood streets get worse in recent years. Specifically, she said, stop signs and other speed-related signs are faded, inconsistent and often not obeyed.

Hadfield said she filed nearly 100 reports on San Diego’s Get It Done app in an effort to make the signs more visible.

“I just want people to slow down,” Hadfield said. “That is my whole motivation. I’m nervous to cross the street with my kids, and that’s not OK with me. People work hard to live here and can’t comfortably walk across the street. This was all to protect my kids.”

As a first step, Hadfield placed signs and displays near her house with “Slow down” written on them, but they were either vandalized or stolen, she said.

She then began to spray-paint the streets in hopes of getting the message across. Hadfield said about 90 percent of the people who have contacted her had positive feelings about it.

But she also has met with backlash.

One person posted on social media that “whoever is painting those pathetic, worthless ‘Slow down’ signs … I truly hope you get caught soon and they hand you a nice hefty bill to have them removed.”

Another commenter professed to be “tired of it,” and another said “I speed up when I see them.”

“No one came to me and said they didn’t like it or to stop,” Hadfield said. “What happened to walking up to someone or writing a letter?

“I wish people knew that I am trying to help the community and make it a safer, more functional town.”

Bird Rock resident Harry Bubbins launched a petition drive in 2022 aiming to have the 35 mph speed limit reduced on La Jolla Boulevard as it winds into Bird Rock.

Bubbins, now president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, told the Light that the “Slow down” message “speaks to the dangerous conditions that exist from speeding drivers and the widespread local perception of a need to address it.”

One interested party that did not approve is the city of San Diego, which dispatched crews to cover the spray paint with slurry or patching. Because of the cost associated with that, Hadfield was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism.

“I was put in the back of a cop car and taken to a facility,” she said. “At one point, I couldn’t feel my arms from the handcuffs. … They didn’t keep me handcuffed during booking, which was nice. I sat there all day filling out paperwork. I sat with other women who had never been in jail. I got home at 5:30 p.m.”

Hadfield said she was “shocked” to learn that the spray-painting was a crime for which she could be charged with a felony.

Following her arrest, she switched to writing her message in chalk.

San Diego police Lt. Matt Botkin said last month that the use of chalk “would not qualify as a new crime because it is a temporary medium, as opposed to paint, which is permanent.”

However, Hadfield said, a judge directed that she stop writing on the street, including with chalk.

This is one of Bird Rock resident Nicole Hadfield's most recent chalk drawings urging drivers to slow down.

This is one of Bird Rock resident Nicole Hadfield’s most recent chalk drawings urging drivers to slow down.

(Provided by Nicole Hadfield)

Her run-ins with the law didn’t stop there. In recent weeks, Hadfield said, SDPD officers have visited her at home and work, citing calls about noise and “disturbances.”

“One time, I was sitting outside after my children were asleep and the officer said there was a noise complaint filed,” she said. “That has been really hard.”

Hadfield also said a restraining order was filed against her by someone she had never met.

“The fact that I can make a ripple gives me a lot of pride. … By doing this, I feel like I’m making a difference. It is raising awareness.”

— Nicole Hadfield

In light of those troubles, Hadfield did not want to be photographed for this article. However, she said her effort has “gotten the attention it needed to get something done.”

“I feel like people have slowed down,” she said. “I think especially when it was painted, people slowed down. When the city paved over it, not so much, but when it was there it was effective. I think people are being more cautious and aware.”

Hadfield said she will continue to try to get local drivers to slow down and to have signs in the area improved.

“I have a map of all the places where the signage could be improved. It is vital we get this done,” she said. “The fact that I can make a ripple gives me a lot of pride. … By doing this, I feel like I’m making a difference. It is raising awareness.

“My intention since Day 1 was to get things done. It wasn’t to make people mad or be a hooligan. My intention was to get people to slow down [and] look around so I feel safe with my kids.” ◆

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