The 10-Year Itch: Underground parking at La Jolla Rec Center

Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

Every 10 years, a proposal is put forward — to "solve the La Jolla (downtown) parking problem" by building an underground garage beneath the La Jolla Recreation Center at Draper Avenue and Prospect Street.

Again, it remains a muddleheaded solution to a problem that is easily dealt with dozens of different ways. This time, it is being promoted by contractor/developer Tom Grunow (who has done extensive work for me at my home[s] and most significantly at the Kinsella Library, helping to preserve all the essential elements of the original Copley Library.) So, I am a great fan of Tom's — but he is so off-base on this issue.

Furthermore, he now appears to be trying to engineer an end-around of a deliberative process to approve such a massively costly and ineffective initiative, for which there certainly is no public money.

Here are some of the considerations to be weighed in tackling the "La Jolla parking problem."

1. The "parking problem" usually starts with the proverbial little old lady who can't find a parking place right in front of Warwick's (or Burns Drug in the "old" days). Hence, "Lordy, we've got a parking problem!"

2. None of the initiatives to solve the "parking problem" ever define the problem.

Issues:

A) Distance: How far away does a driver end up having to park to define having a "parking problem?" Is it half a block, a full block, the same block, a street over, etc. The proposed parking garage entrance is on Cuvier Street — six blocks west of Girard Avenue. Today, no one has to walk even two blocks to find parking unless it's the Holiday Parade or Fourth of July. La Jollans hate to walk, that's why they are complaining. (If they are complaining?) It's never a situation that they have to leave downtown La Jolla and go back home, for lack of parking. It's that they hate to walk and hate to pay for parking.

B) Paid parking: Does paying for parking solve the problem, or not? And how much to pay? If one counts paid parking as solving the problem, then there is no problem since there are enough above-ground paid parking lots, garages or under-building paid parking for anyone to get a space within a block of their destination. But La Jollans hate to pay. But the proposed underground parking at the Rec Center will have to be paid parking!

C) Changing time zones: What would be the effect of cutting down the 2-hour parking to 90 minutes? Or 1 hour? Or drastically increasing the number of 15-minute parking places to accommodate people who just need to run into Cinderella's on Silverado to grab a pair of repaired boots?

D) Full participation by all stakeholders in solutions: What about asking The Bishop's School, the Bank of America, the La Jolla Presbyterian Church, to open up their parking to, at least, those people attending an event at the renovated Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego or La Jolla Music Society's new Conrad Prebys Music Hall? (Both of these institutions represented to the approval bodies for their construction that on-street parking would be just fine when they had an event. Now, apparently, they are clamoring for this garage under the rec center. Or are they?)

3. None of these above issues are ever addressed or even tried. And yet some self-congratulating, but well-intentioned committee self-organizes with an exotic foreign-sounding moniker (charrette seems to be the new favorite) and, lo and behold, the "solution" is always to rip up the tennis courts, the ball field, basketball courts and children playgrounds at the Rec Center to build an underground parking garage that no one will use.

This will cost $3 million and put the Rec Center out of business for at least two years. Where do all the tennis players and basketball players go? Where do the kids and their moms go who use the Rec Center playgrounds and grass field? How does the garage project take into consideration the distress and disruption to residents with all this potential unwanted chaos, noise and dust, etc?

4. The garage would be a financial burden on the taxpayer forever due to maintenance and liability. Without sufficient funds and monitoring, the garage will become a skateboard park or homeless center or both. The garage solves no known problem but is detrimental to the park's purpose — recreation.

No one will use the proposed underground parking garage because it will have to be paid parking (unless some, so far, unknown enormously wealthy donor endows the garage with enough capital to pay for upkeep and maintenance in perpetuity). And, as we all know, women especially hate underground parking because a predator can lie in wait there and there are precious few escape routes.

And, if there is really a need for another underground garage, it should be built and maintained with private money and private land. Let the market do it.

5. Instead of the charrette guilt-tripping those [like me] opposed to this boneheaded scheme, why don't they find the money and then there would be something to talk about. And that something to talk about will be a better use for taxpayer or eleemosynary funds to enhance the Cultural Zone of La Jolla, without frittering it away on an underground parking garage that no one will use.

And illustrative to my point of La Jolla's not willing to pay for anything … some years ago, the little strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb on the perimeter around the Rec Center was torn out and cemented over because it was "too expensive" to mow the grass. Dozens of date palms have been felled because it was too expensive to keep them trimmed. And where did that "savings" go? Probably to pay the unfunded gold-plated pension fund for City employees. It certainly did not go into a reserve to enhance the Cultural Zone in La Jolla.

And if the City can't afford to mow an 18-inch strip of grass to maintain some semblance of beauty in the Cultural Zone, talking about all these other enhancements propounded by the charrette is a monumental waste of breath.

I write this critique not as a cranky naysayer. I saved the former Copley Library from developers who would have turned it into condos and renovated this magnificent building with the help of developer Tom Grunow, architect Trip Hawkins and interior designer Barbara Enberg. The Kinsella Library and its collections are now open to the public; the Copley Library was never open to the public.

But responsible citizenship requires speaking up when schemes to improve the La Jolla Cultural Zone include a proposal — for this underground garage — which are antithetical to responsible stewardship. The goals of the charrette for the Cultural Zone are mostly very laudable, but let's drop this recurrent, Groundhog Day-nightmare of building a costly, useless garage under the La Jolla Recreation Center.

— Kevin J. Kinsella serves as founder and managing director of the venture capital firm Avalon Ventures.

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