Changes underway with La Jolla’s PDO committee: Chair resigns, Merchants Association revives effort to revamp or remove Ordinance

La Jolla Village Merchants Association member Claude-Anthony Marengo (right) speaks to the challenge presented by the current Planned District Ordinance to potential retail tenants at the Jan. 11 meeting.
(Ashley Mackin)

Changes are underway with La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO) committee, starting with the recent resignation of Ione Steigler as chair, and the formation of a La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association ad-hoc committee on how the two groups can better work together.

Steigler, who has been the PDO committee chair since 2009, said she is stepping down, but staying on the board until the spring, when committees typically make their appointments to sub-committees, such as PDO.

“I’ve served for more than seven years and think it’s time for me to move on and let other people take over and share their opinions of La Jolla,” she said. “That was a long enough time to be on a committee and it’s time to let fresh blood in.”

The PDO committee, according to its parent group, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA), reviews development applications within the portions of La Jolla related to the PDO. For projects requiring no other discretionary permits, for example, building signs, façade renovations, the recommendations are forwarded to the LJCPA for ratification before submitting to the City of San Diego. For projects requiring discretionary permits (coastal development permits, site development permits, etc.) the recommendations are forwarded to the Coastal Development Permit Committee for their consideration. The Committee’s review is limited to whether or not the application conforms to the PDO.

The 88-page Ordinance is intended to protect the unique character of La Jolla, including regulating heights of walls and fences, building color, residential deign, setbacks and more.

However, La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) executive director Sheila Fortune said there have been several projects in town that have skipped a PDO committee review and are being built without consideration or conformance to the Ordinance. She said the City’s understaffed Code Compliance department would be the responsible party to notify those that are not in conformance.

At the Jan. 11 LJVMA meeting, member Claude-Anthony Marengo (who long advocated for the abolishment of the PDO due to it being “antiquated”) added that the lackadaisical PDO compliance poses a challenge for new or potential merchants.

“You have the City’s general building code you have to look at to open a business in town, and then on top of that, there is a ‘micro-layer’ of our PDO,” he said. “Through that, there are certain things a business can or cannot do, how they can do it, what colors, street improvements, fenestration (windows) percentage, size of signage, color palates, etc. It can discourage new businesses because there’s all this review and subjectivity that can get in the way of whether you can do business or not. Then you get the person who just does it without going through the review. The City doesn’t have a mechanism to punish those that don’t follow the PDO; they aren’t going to shut down businesses over it. It’s an antiquated system.” The PDO was written in 1984, and Marengo’s wife, Deborah, is acting chair of the PDO committee.

Marengo added, “I would like to see the changes we started a few years ago (to abolish or significantly rework the PDO) to get a reaction out of the City and Council member Barbara Bry’s office.”

To determine how to proceed, Fortune suggested the formation of an ad-hoc committee, which several LJVMA members agreed to join.

La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance Committee’s next meeting (pending items to review) is 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.