An earlier version of this story stated that the city’s Human Relations Commission voted to support adopting a non-religious name for La Jolla's December parade. In fact, the commission only voted to suggest that parade organizers enter into mediation with the group seeking to change the name.
By Pat Sherman
During the July 9 meeting of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) — the second largest of San Diego’s 19 business improvement district (BID) groups — trustees voted to request that the name of La Jolla’s annual Christmas Parade be changed to one that does not reference a particular religion.
The vote followed a presentation by La Jollan Howard Singer, lightning rod founder of the roughly 18-member San Diego County Diversity and Inclusiveness Group (DIG), whose mission he told trustees is solely to remove “Christmas” from the name of La Jolla’s December parade.
The issue previously came to a head in March 2005 when Singer proposed the name change to the La Jolla Town Council, which at the time produced the event. The council narrowly voted down the name change proposal in an 11-10 vote, via secret ballot.
In recent years town council trustee and longtime Christmas Parade Chair Ann Kerr Bache formed a separate, 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation to organize the annual parade, removing it from the town council’s auspices.
LJVMA President Claude-Anthony Marengo said he consulted the board’s executive committee — specifically vice-president and attorney Mark Krasner — before placing the item on this month’s agenda, because he said he “didn’t feel comfortable” weighing in on the issue, and questioned whether taking a position was in conformance with LJVMA bylaws.
“It was determined that it was OK for us to do this, to look into it,” Marengo said, noting that the group invited Kerr Bache to join the discussion, although she demurred via e-mail (for nearly a year, she has declined to discuss the name change further with DIG, the
or other media outlets).
Last fall, San Diego’s Human Relations Commission voted to suggest parade organizers enter into mediation with DIG (which they declined to do), while earlier this year the La Jolla Democratic Club voted unanimously to support the name change. The Bird Rock Community Council opined in 2010 and again last month that it was not within the group’s purview to take up the issue (although after the June meeting about 10 members remained to express their individual support for the name change).
Singer said the name should be changed, given the present day religious and ethnic diversity of La Jolla, and the historic sting of its long defunct exclusionary housing policies, which once prohibited selling or renting to Jewish people, blacks and other minorities.
“Why can’t this community evolve like everyone else has? … Christmas trees, angels, Santa Claus and nativity scenes could still be a part of group (parade) displays, but the name change would make it clear that those who wish to display other symbols, such as menorahs, are no less welcome than their Christian neighbors,” Singer said, adding that some alternate names his group is considering include “Jolly Jewel Parade” and “La Joy-a in La Jolla.”
“We don’t think La Jolla will ever accept the word ‘holiday,’ ” he said, noting the names of December parades in Chula Vista, Encinitas, Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach have already changed from “Christmas” to “Holiday.”
Asked by trustee Trenton Bonner if “La Jolla Christmas and Chanukah Parade” would be an acceptable name, Singer, who disclosed that he is the only Jewish member of DIG, said it would not.
“Personally, I don’t want it changed,” Bonner said, adding that he would be happy with whatever the community decides, but doesn’t believe it is appropriate for the LJVMA to take a position.
Marengo said the LJVMA explored spending money — or asking Singer’s group to spend money — to poll all its merchant members on the issue. “I still think it’s a good idea,” Marengo said.
LJVMA trustee Leon Chow said he approves of what Singer’s group is trying to do, but questioned how useful the board’s vote would be toward DIG’s objective when parade organizers refuse to discuss the issue further, and are not bound by law or the city to do so.
“I approve the name, whatever change would be acceptable among the community, but I don’t follow how my vote and our words here are going to help your cause,” Chow said. “I’m not sure as a business owner I want to pressure other people.”
Trustee Claudette Berwin countered, “I think (a vote) will be significant and I think it will put pressure on the 501(c)(3) … so I think it is important.”
Trustee Krasner, whose law firm contributes financially to the parade (as does trustee Nancy Warwick of Warwick’s Bookstore), said that despite his annual contribution, he also believes it is “important that the merchants association send a message” to parade organizers “that we do have diversity and inclusiveness” at such public events.
“That’s one of the things that makes La Jolla great,” Krasner said, making a motion that the LJVMA request that parade organizers change the name to something “faith-neutral.”
Trustee Carol Mills seconded the motion, which passed by a vote of 8-2, with trustees Bonner and Kevin Smith in opposition.
“It doesn’t mean we’re forcing anything,” Marengo said. “We’re asking.”