Outraged planning group demands Scripps lop a story off MESOM building in La Jolla

CPA board members say Scripps' $26.5 million Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) off La Jolla Shores Drive is being constructed at a height that is greater than what was initially presented by UC San Diego officials. Pat Sherman photos
CPA board members say Scripps' $26.5 million Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) off La Jolla Shores Drive is being constructed at a height that is greater than what was initially presented by UC San Diego officials. Pat Sherman photos
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CPA board members say Scripps' $26.5 million Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) off La Jolla Shores Drive is being constructed at a height that is greater than what was initially presented by UC San Diego officials. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

During its Oct. 4 meeting, La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA) board members expressed anger, frustration and mistrust in response to a 40,000-square-foot research laboratory currently under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).

CPA board members said the $26.5 million project, SIO’s Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) off La Jolla Shores Drive, is being constructed at a height that is greater than what was initially presented by UC San Diego officials.

During the meeting CPA board member and architect Laura Ducharme-Conboy presented a series of slides featuring photo renderings of the building as presented by UCSD in 2010 and 2011.

The renderings were superimposed with photos of the ongoing construction, taken by Ducharme-Conboy at the same location to demonstrate how the construction exceeds the height level represented in the renderings, robbing the community of coastal views at the apex of La Jolla Shores Drive.

Fielding the association’s questions, Brad Werdick, UCSD’s director of physical and community planning, conceded that the building’s height exceeds what was presented in the renderings.

“There is a discrepancy between the height of the building that’s under construction and what was shown in the photo simulation,” Werdick said, maintaining UCSD architects “did the best that they could” to create photo simulations from a 3D model. However, he said, “The original photo simulations never showed (that the building wouldn’t) block white-water or blue-water views.”

“As we bring our next project forward, if you don’t believe or trust the university, ask for story poles,” Werdick said. “It was never our intent to mislead. ... Moving forward, ask those questions. We’re fine if you want more information.”

In approving a Coastal Development Permit for the project, the California Coastal Commission required mitigation measures to open up the view corridor in other areas.

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UC San Diego representative Brad Werdick fields questions from fired-up CPA board members, who are upset about the ongoing MESOM construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

To comply, UCSD removed 28 eucalyptus and other non-native trees and is adding several coastal overlook points in the area that will be accessible to the public.

As a further concession, UCSD is working in concert with the Coastal Commission to place a deed restriction on the property stating that all future building elevation will “not exceed the elevation of La Jolla Shores Drive,” Werdick said.

CPA board member Jim Fitzgerald asked why there was such a discrepancy in the project’s height and what was initially presented to the community.

“Why didn’t they notice this when they started (construction),” Fitzgerald asked. “Why didn’t somebody say, ‘Wait, this isn’t what we said we were going to do.’ ”

Fellow board member Phil Merten added, “With projects of this scale, and the kind of money that’s being spent, I think it’s horrible that professionals doing these things can’t do a better job depicting the building as its going to be — that’s assuming that there wasn’t an attempt to mislead and make the building look lower than it actually is.”

Werdick offered his own slide presentation, which also showed some discrepancy in the height of the current construction and the photo renderings.

Werdick said formwork, temporary molds into which concrete is poured for the construction, rise 6 to 18 inches above the roofline, making the building appear higher than it will look once complete.

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