Committee considers nonconformity in La Jolla, questions public art

Efforts are underway to form a new group to seek the contract to run the Village business district. Photo: Light file
Efforts are underway to form a new group to seek the contract to run the Village business district. Photo: Light file

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

At its December meeting the Planned District Ordinance Committee expressed continued frustration at the lack of city and community support in bringing projects before it for review, citing painting at The Comedy Store, public art in the Village and a mural proposed for Bird Rock Surf Shop’s new location as examples.

The committee, composed of a cross-section of members from other community groups such as Promote La Jolla, La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Community Planning Association, is charged with ensuring development in the Village conforms with standards in La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO). The PDO is a development blueprint specifying uniform standards for things like allowable building colors and materials, signage, outdoor patios, etc.

There are numerous instances of existing structures throughout the Village of La Jolla that may be in violation of La Jolla PDO standards. The PDO committee has been investigating and photographing them.

More than 50 “questionable things” have been uncovered by the PDO Committee in the Village that could constitute PDO code infractions.

“I found about two dozen in the La Jolla Boulevard area,” said committee chair Ione Stiegler, an architect. “It’s everything from putting picnic benches out in the pubic right of way without a permit to altering the front of a building with inappropriate colors or signage or zoning, going from a retail to a restaurant use.”

Committeemember Crystal Hasson noted nonconforming uses tend to be “clustered.”

“Some areas of Girard and Prospect are just lovely: Some people really do obey the rules, stay within the codes and guidelines,” she said. “But other people step over the line because some of their neighbors do, do things like paint their windows, hang plastic banners, put sandwich boards out on the sidewalk or have inappropriate or oversignage.”

Ben and Matt Murphy of Bird Rock Surf Shop appeared before the PDO Committee in December to have it review plans for the building they’re remodeling and relocating to across La Jolla Boulevard from Cass Street Café. The Murphys had already obtained city approval for their proposed signage, including plans for an exterior mural,  that Stiegler noted ought to have been brought to the PDO committee for review first.

At committeemember Orrin Gabsch’s request, the group also discussed the possibility that The Comedy Store at 916 Pearl St., which recently stripped off its trademark ivy building covering revealing a pure black color beneath, as being in possible violation of La Jolla’s PDO codes, which maintain black should be an accent, not a dominant, building color. But since that was the original and underlying color of the Comedy Store’s building, the PDO Committee noted it constituted a legally nonconforming, grandfathered-in use.

The group also discussed a series of 10 to 12 temporary murals going in around town funded by the La Jolla Community Foundation, all on private buildings, which are meant to enhance the community’s aesthetic character.

PDO Committeemember Deborah Marengo noted the value of public art has proven difficult to assess in the past because it is “very subjective.”

Stiegler noted the Foundation had made a presentation to the committee previously on its La Jolla Arts Program as an information-only item. Since committeemembers had questions about their murals, such as how long they would be up and how well they will weather, she said she would invite the Foundation to appear before the group at its next meeting in January to give a presentation and answer questions.



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