La Jolla Community Planning Association apprehensive about UCSD Marine Conservation facility plan

The planned UC San Diego Marine Conservation Facility may have passed muster at the La Jolla Shores Association board, but at the March 2 La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting at La Jolla Rec Center, the reception was not so warm.

As previously reported in La Jolla Light, the project calls for the conversion of the former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Southwest Fisheries Science Center buildings on the northern end of the campus, into laboratories for Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) students, and the addition of a two-story building to house a 100-student forum and a café. Architectural firm Safdie Rabines, who designed the nearby Caroline’s Seaside Café, designed the new facility.

Steve Gallagher, assistant vice-chancellor of Marine Sciences at SIO, made a presentation to LJCPA and said, “It’s an important building for us because we want to reinvigorate the north end of campus and provide amenities for the staff at NOAA, which has offices just across the street, and we look at this as an anchor to our campus.”

He added students would use the classrooms, but the ocean-view conference rooms, coastal overlook rest area and café would be available to the public.

When the plans were presented to the La Jolla Shores Association Feb. 8, he said the board was “complimentary” of the designs. The $22 million project, paid for with campus funds, is expected to start construction this fall and be complete by fall 2018.

However, with the construction, “a little snippet” of the new facility will block some of the ocean view from La Jolla Shores Drive. Gallagher presented renderings showing the existing facility’s visual impact and that of the new addition.

For some, the elephant in the room was the unwanted reminder of the UC San Diego Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) building.

In 2012, SIO’s MESOM building, also located off La Jolla Shores Drive, caused controversy when it was constructed at a height greater than what was initially presented.

“We learned from that and were obsessed with maintaining view corridors when we were planning this building,” Gallagher said. “We put a lot of attention into making sure the building didn’t come up and block the view from the road. So the existing building and new additions are, to a large extent, hidden by vegetation.” As to whether there would be a last-minute change similar to MESOM, he said, “We are getting ready to move forward … drafting construction documents that will be bid on, so what you are seeing here is what you’re going to get.”

Undeterred in his opposition, LJCPA trustee Mike Costello said, “Many of us are veterans of the MESOM building war. … It was a crushing blow to this community. The result of the MESOM building war was UCSD would not do what you have there (the addition that blocks the view). UCSD said it would not do that anymore. The word of the institution should be your bond. Is your word your bond? If so, why does your word change? You said you would not do this again … You said you would put nothing in the way of the view.”

Gallagher responded, “We looked at all the options and went with the one we thought had the least impact because the alternative would be to bring down the entire building and construct a completely new building.”

What is not covered by vegetation, and provides visual blockage, includes an upward sloping trellis that covers the café and a portion of the top story.

LJCPA trustee Dolores Donovan said that although she thought the site will be “beautiful,” she was worried about whether all the possible users were being equally considered. “My concern is whether the interests of the community with the interests of the university — and in this case, the interest of those eating in the café — are being balanced. I would submit to you that the interest of the community and preserving the view from La Jolla Shores Drive are far more important and weighty than those sitting at that café having the shade. I would ask you to reconsider the balance of interest.”

Gallagher countered that both the building and its shade structures are crucial to SIO’s mission. “We have one eating facility at Scripps and that is Caroline’s, and there are always lines for students and the public. We thought having the café amenity was crucial for our students.”

Added architect Taal Safdie of Safdie Rabines, “The trellis is really slim and I don’t think it will have significant impact on the views. A terrace like that without a cover will never be used properly. You can’t put umbrellas there because it’s always windy and at Caroline’s, everyone tries to get a spot under the trellises. For this area to be successful, it is worth that sliver.”

The item was slated for discussion, not a vote, so the board took no action. For more information about the project, visit physicalplanning.ucsd.edu and click “UCSD projects.”

In other LJCPA news:

Mesa Housing revised: Anu Delouri, UCSD community planner, said a revised Notice of Preparation on the Mesa Nueva Graduate and Professional Student Housing project was issued and the public comment period has been reopened. The project site is on the east campus at Regents Road and La Jolla Village Drive.

“We issued a Notice of Preparation, which is the start to the environmental process … but before the scoping period closed, the regents of the UC system said they needed to increase the number of beds proposed,” she said. “So the comment period has been reopened, if you submitted comments already, those comments will be considered. You don’t need to re-provide comments unless they speak to the change in project scope.” Information about the project can be found at physicalplanning.ucsd.edu

Moratorium waived: Phyllis Minick, speaking for the Children’s Pool Walk Beautification Project, requested LJCPA vote to suspend the summer construction moratorium this year to accommodate the project.

“A yes vote will allow Children’s Pool Walk to proceed on schedule, starting in early June, and through completion before the start of harbor seal pupping season (Dec. 15),” she said. The project was introduced in 2010 and has been delayed following permit and fee issues ever since. It would replace and upgrade the sidewalk area above Children’s Pool to include winding sidewalks and a seating area. With the City ready to proceed, the moratorium on summer beach construction (Memorial Day to Labor Day annually) just needed to be waived. A motion to suspend the summer construction moratorium passed unanimously.

Cove Pavilion OK’d: After a similar presentation to the one given Feb. 27 to La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group on the Cove Pavilion restroom facility project, which will double the amount of toilets at the Scripps Park facility and improve the aesthetic (see page A1), LJCPA also voted to support the project.

Election results are in: LJCPA’s March meeting doubled as its annual election, in which six candidates ran for six, three-year seats. The winners will be seated at the next meeting. They are: Bob Collins, Cindy Greatrex, Dave Gordon, Sheila Palmer, Bob Steck and Brian Will.

— La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, April 6 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org

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