The countdown clock has begun once again on the Children’s Pool Walk beautification project, this time set for June 1. That’s when the City of San Diego expects to start construction on a project to enhance pedestrian flow, install “sitting walls” with vegetation, and improve aesthetics on the sidewalk area above La Jolla’s Children’s Pool beach.
The latest iteration of the project, which has been in process and repeatedly revised since 2011, was presented at the March 26 La Jolla Parks & Beaches (LJP&B) advisory group meeting at La Jolla Rec Center.
“We want to thank you all for being patient through this process,” project manager Michael Ramirez told those assembled. “We know it has been a long time coming, but we’re proud to announce we plan on going to construction June 1 of this year. We’ve talked to the contractor and walked the site. We’re just waiting for the cost proposal. We also spoke to them about traffic mitigation. We’re trying to find ways to have the least impact on tourists and locals.”
Ramirez added that this type of work typically takes five months, but “we all know this is one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in San Diego, so we would like to take the whole six months (allotted to this project) for construction.”
In the area surrounding Children’s Pool, harbor seal pupping season is observed from December to May annually, and then there is a summer construction moratorium observed from Memorial Day (late May) to Labor Day (early September). However, the LJP&B board voted to waive the summer construction moratorium.
The scope of work spans:
1) from the top of the stairs leading down to the Children’s Pool and front of the lifeguard tower, where short planters/sitting walls will be installed and filled with drought-tolerant plantings;
2) along the sidewalk heading north, where the landscaping will be removed and concrete will be replaced;
3) on Coast Boulevard, where a crosswalk will be painted (there is currently a pedestrian ramp but no crosswalk);
4) further north on the sidewalk, where additional teardrop-shaped planters/sitting walls will be installed;
5) fronting the gazebo where sitting walls and bike racks will be installed;
6) and up the street, where the white picket fence that lines toward Scripps Park will be extended. Benches at the site would remain.
Back in 2011, La Jolla resident Phyllis Minick set out to beautify the area and contracted landscape architect Jim Neri to design the plans. Neri’s renderings and beautification ideas were approved by LJP&B as a private project. However, a Fair Political Practices Commission opinion determined it would constitute a conflict-of-interest violation to have a contractor create plans and then bid on the same project. Consequently, Neri was excluded from carrying out the work, and the City took over the responsibility.
Rick Engineering Company has been assigned to oversee the project.
Kevin Gibson, principal at Rick Engineering, explained to LJP&B members: “We took the plan over from Jim Neri, so our project is very similar to what this board saw before. … There would be added planters with vegetation. The irrigation for the planters goes to a bio-filtration unit underground.”
Tim Pruss, Rick Engineering landscape architect, added: “We have seat walls that are very similar to what is there now, with abalone accents and cobble veneer. You can actually sit on them, and they are terminated with boulders on either end. They will be filled with drought tolerant, low maintenance and sea-spray resistant plants. The City of San Diego maintenance endorses the plant palate.”
Because of their “eye” shape, the sitting walls are in the “eyebrows” of the planters. Pruss opined: “They are great little respites for looking at the views and resting.”
There would also be post-and-chain barriers to encourage pedestrian flow in appropriate areas. “We want this project to be successful and sustainable,” Pruss commented.
Having heard different versions of this project several times over the years, the board had minimal questions for the presenters. The project was introduced seven years ago, and permits were sought in 2012 and 2013. The hope was to have the project completed while the Children’s Pool Lifeguard Tower was being replaced in 2013, but that was not deemed possible. The tower construction was supposed to take eight months, but faced myriad delays, ranging from issues with materials to a nesting seagull chick to inconsistent design plans. It opened in June 2016.
While construction on the lifeguard tower was underway, the City produced its required environmental documents and identified funding for the beautification project. Forward movement on the plans did not take place until October 2016, when City engineers set construction in June 2017.
In May 2017, City engineers determined the wall that lines the Children’s Pool may be historic, which would affect any improvements and there were safety issues that needed to be addressed. The City said it would explore “scaled down” alternatives to the more elaborate plans that were originally submitted.
To bypass the historicity of the wall, City crews decided to move the scope of work away from the wall in order to proceed.
A LJP&B motion to endorse the project and encourage its forward momentum passed unanimously
Minick, acknowledging that a similar promise of a June 1 start date was made last year, later told the Light, “I asked (the presenters) about how serious the start date was and they said it’s a done deal and they are confident. … I feel good about the fact this could actually get finished. I’m an optimist and I’m hopeful.”