With La Jolla in the forefront, city marks 50 years of community planning

At a recent City Hall celebration commemorating the golden anniversary of Community Planning, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer called those who volunteer their time and effort to serve on local committees and boards, the city’s “unsung heroes.” Offering his thanks for their dedication, he said, “They are on the front lines to create a better city for all of us. For them, it’s not about fame, recognition or compensation. They do it because they love our city. Their effort makes San Diego a better place, now and in the future.”

Joined by representatives from the city’s more than 40 community planning groups, the Mayor, Council President Sherri Lightner and Councilmember Lorie Zapf proclaimed Sept. 20, 2016, “Community Planning Group 50th Anniversary Day” in the City of San Diego.

And the roots of this half-century old community advisory system, are in La Jolla.

Established to allow citizens to provide input on development in their communities, area planning groups were formalized in 1966, when the San Diego City Council approved Council Policy 600-5. This policy authorized the Planning Commission to form citizen organizations (called community planning groups) to coordinate and cooperate with city staff on planning and development programs.

Lightner, a La Jolla resident, spoke about her district’s importance during the anniversary celebration. “To serve your community in this way takes time, dedication and love of your neighborhood. Knowing that, I want to commend everyone who has served now and in the past,” she said. “The idea of communities participating in city planning is not new, but it was new in La Jolla in the 1960s when a group of citizens formed La Jollans, Inc. and got the ball rolling to make the planning group process official in the city.”

Karl ZoBell, one of the founding members of La Jollans, Inc., said the idea started when a group of residents wanted to see a plan for future potential development in the 1960s. Since community members formed the La Jolla Town Council in 1950, a pattern of activism had already been established.

Current La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) president Cindy Greatrex explained, “La Jollans Inc. really started with UC San Diego expanding from Quonset huts and trailers in horse pastures to consistent building growth. Professors were needed and student housing and resources were needed. So with the expansion of the university, people started to move in, in big numbers, and the area began to grow in terms of commercial development. La Jollans Inc. was formed by residents predominantly in The Shores, who were worried about commercial development encroachment.”

Taking cues from a group called San Diegans, Inc. — which formed to address downtown development and problems — a group of Town Council trustees approached the City Council with a proposal for a community plan so all future developments could be measured against it. The city was quick to agree, given the alternative (commonplace at the time) was to have La Jollans show up at City Council meetings en masse if they objected to a project. They formed La Jollans, Inc. to raise the funds needed for the city-required research to draft a plan.

Around that time, ZoBell added, “The (unofficial) planning groups became quite politically persuasive. We would rally together and became an irritant to the City Council and the Planning Department. As time went by, other groups in other communities were developed on the same model, to reflect their own thoughts and wishes.”

In 1966, the City Council adopted the policy that gave credence to La Jolla’s planning group. (Soon after, other communities followed suit, and organized to become city-recognized boards.)

The following year the first La Jolla Community Plan was drafted and approved. In the first few years, ZoBell said, La Jollans, Inc.’s purpose was to review proposed development for conformance to the new plan, and make a recommendation to the La Jolla Town Council, which would decide whether a proposal was in compliance.

By 1972, the La Jolla Shores Precise Plan, which was found within the La Jollans Inc. community plan, was accepted via resolution by the City, Greatrex said. “In 1974, the La Jolla Shores Design Manual was adopted as the official planning guide by the City of San Diego. The City adopted the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (PDO) as the implementing ordinance for this manual in the same year. In 1978 the Coastal Commission challenged the communities along the coast to adopt a community plan. In 1983, La Jollans Inc. developed the La Jolla Shores Local Coastal Program.”

La Jollans, Inc. lasted through a few revisions of the La Jolla Community Plan before rebranding as La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) in 1992.

Now, LJCPA is recognized by the city to make recommendations to the City Council, Planning Commission, city staff and other governmental agencies on land-use matters.

Sub-groups of the LJCPA eventually formed to review particular issues and provide reports, i.e., La Jolla’s Traffic & Transportation, and La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committees, which monthly submit their findings to LJCPA for ratification.

Further, community planning groups for other neighborhoods within La Jolla have formed, including the Bird Rock Community Council and the La Jolla Shores Association. At these meetings, City Council representatives are often in attendance.