La Jolla MAD opponents lack standing, judge rules: Both parties meeting to determine next steps

In the on again, off again battle to establish a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) in the Village of La Jolla, the judge dealt a blow to the opposition last week in ruling it did not have legal standing to file a lawsuit questioning the validity of the MAD.

On June 27, Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp revisited her November 2017 ruling that the MAD was unconstitutional, after hearing City evidence that the plaintiffs suing the MAD had no standing in the case.

Her decision was reached three weeks after the oral arguments in the City of San Diego vs. La Jolla Benefits Association LLC, pertaining to the formation of the La Jolla MAD.

Judge Trapp’s decision reads: “The court has reviewed the pleadings, evidence and the arguments made by counsel and finds that (La Jolla Benefits Association, LLC) has not shown it had standing when the Petition was filed.”

In November 2016, a MAD within The Village of La Jolla was approved by a majority (weighted by property size) of the commercial and residential property owners within its boundaries. The MAD was then ratified by the San Diego City Council. Assessments would cover enhanced services such as power-washing streets.

However, after it passed, the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC was formed and it filed a lawsuit challenging the MAD’s legality on the grounds that the services the MAD would provide are services the City should be carrying out.

Whether La Jolla Benefits Association LLC had the standing to file such a challenge was argued before Judge Trapp on June 8.

According to the ruling: “Petitioner (La Jolla Benefits Association, LLC) alleged it had standing because it owns property within the proposed MAD. One of its members, A-440 Enterprises Inc., is a commercial property owner within Zone 1 of the MAD and is liable to pay the increased assessment.

“At issue is whether A-440 Enterprises was the sole member of the petitioner at the time the complaint was filed on Dec. 28, 2016. The timing is important because the resolution (that authorized the creation of a MAD in La Jolla) at issue permitted 30 days to challenge the validity of the assessment. … Final passage was Nov. 28, 2016; this action was filed on Dec. 28, 2016 -- the last day to file.

“… By the time petitioner was managed by A-440 Enterprises on Feb. 6, 2017, the 30 days’ statute of limitations to file this action had run. Further, it appears A-440 Enterprises is no longer the manager of petitioner. Accordingly, petitioner has not shown standing to bring this action.”

San Diego Deputy City Attorney Carmen Brock represented the City and the La Jolla MAD in this matter, and a statement released from the City Attorney’s office reads: “We are pleased that the court saw the case our way, and ruled in our favor.”

Attorney Maria Severson with Aguirre & Severson LLP, representing La Jolla Benefits Association, LLC, told La Jolla Light: “We have profound respect for the judge and for the court, but we believe the Nov. 30 decision (that ruled the MAD unconstitutional) was correct and we are exploring all available avenues and all legal remedies to get this back before the court.”

Severson said she was unable to disclose the specifics of her next steps, because they would be decided in the coming days. (The Light will continue to follow the story and provide updates as details become available.)

Upon the release of the ruling, Enhance La Jolla (the community nonprofit board charged with managing the MAD) treasurer and acting president Ed Witt said: “We want to thank the City of San Diego for defending what is right for the La Jolla community. And we thank the citizens of La Jolla in the Maintenance Assessment District for their continued support. This is really great news! It’s exciting for the community of La Jolla and exciting for the Enhance La Jolla board. We can finally now move forward to make La Jolla the jewel it should be.”

Witt added that there are “a lot of details to figure out” in terms of a next move, but the board would meet to determine where to go from here.

“We are just very excited to move La Jolla forward through the MAD process,” he said. “We have not received any money from the City, so we don’t have any money to do anything with yet (in terms of capital projects). The City refunded the money it first collected when the assessment was originally passed. If the reality is we won’t get anything until Jan. 1, we will plan and formulate something exciting for the community then.”

Enhance La Jolla is comprised of seven commercial, non-profit and residential property owners; three board members from the La Jolla Community Foundation, which funded formation of the MAD; a member of the La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association and a community member at-large.

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