Planning association asks Scripps to halt construction of project obscuring coastal views

Some residents say the Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling laboratory (MESOM), under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, off La Jolla Scenic Drive, is robbing the community of coastal views. Pat Sherman
Some residents say the Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling laboratory (MESOM), under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, off La Jolla Scenic Drive, is robbing the community of coastal views. Pat Sherman
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Some residents say the Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling laboratory (MESOM), under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, off La Jolla Scenic Drive, is robbing the community of coastal views. Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

During the Sept. 6 meeting of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA), John Beaver, a 30-year-resident of La Jolla, said a laboratory currently under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) is robbing the community of coastal views and blighting the coastline.

The $26.5 million project, SIO’s Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM), will be used for research and education related to marine ecosystems and climate change. The roughly 40,000-square-foot building is located off La Jolla Shores Drive, across from the recently completed Southwest Fisheries Science Center building.

“How outrageous of the director of the SIO and the staff to so egregiously destroy a precious site,” said Beaver, reading aloud from his letter, published that day in the

La Jolla Light

.

“It looks as though it’s too late to stop the construction, but SIO should be faulted forever for lack of community citizenship.”

At the urging of Beaver and other CPA trustees, the CPA board voted to take emergency action to have its president draft a letter to the California Coast Commission, which approved the project in April 2011, and to UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, requesting that construction be suspended.

The CPA is seeking an explanation for what its trustees view as a potential violation of the terms of the project’s mitigated negative declaration, a study prepared to determine whether a project may have any significant adverse environmental impacts.

After making initial contact with SIO, Beaver said he was told that the organization’s California Coastal Commission permit was contingent upon SIO opening up the view corridor in adjacent areas by trimming or removing trees.

“I’ve been driving by there for 30 years and I saw right through those trees,” Beaver said, noting that UC San Diego and SIO officials also promised “not to build a building like this again in the future.

“Well, the future is here,” Beaver said. “The view is gone, as of today. Thank you Scripps Institution of Oceanography.”

Both the CPA and the La Jolla Shores Association reviewed the MESOM project during the past few years.

CPA trustees Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Allen said they both recalled when the project came before the CPA.

“We as a community were assured that those views were going to be protected,” Fitzgerald said.

“I was in the audience ... when that project was presented to us,” Allen added. “I remember the graphics they present- ed to show that the building would not block views from automobiles.”

Allen said an initial environmental impact report also stated that no significant ocean views would be blocked and no significant adverse effects to aesthetics would occur as a result of the project.

During the Sept. 12 meeting of the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA), Tim Lucas also raised the issue, noting CPA’s recent action.

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Construction on the MESOM building was ongoing last Friday, despite the La Jolla Community Planning Association's emergency request to halt construction until Scripps Institution of Oceanography could address the group's concerns about the building's height.

“As you walk closer to the building, the view is totally obstructed,” he said, noting that an embankment added by SIO and untrimmed trees partially obscured the view for decades.

LJSA trustee Janie Emerson also said that after driving by the site recently, she feels the development “is not what was presented to us.”

UC San Diego Principal Community Planner, Anu Delouri, who was in attendance to give her regular report, confirmed that the university had received the CPA’s letter, dated sept. 10.

she said no new drawings or plans were generated that deviated from what the CpA and LJsA were shown, in terms of the building’s height.

“Everything is still per plan,” she said, noting initial concessions that were made to accommodate the advisory groups’ concerns, such as removing some stacks from the top of the building and moving the building a little to the southeast.

She said tree trimming the California Coastal Commission required to mitigate the loss of views from the building was completed Sept. 11.

“Yes, there is a building, and it does protrude up,” Delouri said. “I’m not saying you don’t have grounds for a complaint, (but) nowhere did we say that it won’t impact views.”

LJsA trustee mary Coakley munk said that when the proj- ect was first presented to the LJSA, trustees should have requested story poles, or three-dimensional, full-scale, silhouette structures outlining the location, bulk and mass that a proposed building will occupy on a site.

“I think when presentations are made, they have to be a little more clear and a little more accurate,” Emerson added. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

In the end, LJSA trustees decided to defer action on the project to the CPA.

Delouri said she will gather more information for a fuller presentation on the project’s status during the Oct. 4 CPA meeting at La Jolla Rec Center. meanwhile, SIO and UC San Diego officials are investigating further, she said.

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