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City opinion could change who carries out La Jolla civic project

A recent opinion issued by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office could throw a monkey wrench into the projects for city land spearheaded by active La Jollans. Think the Children’s Pool Walk project, which would replace and enhance the sidewalk area above Children’s Pool, and the Cove Restroom Pavilion project, which would replace the restroom facility at La Jolla Cove. With the new thinking, contractors who help with the design or preliminary phase of a project would now be barred from bidding or consulting on the execution of the project, due to conflict of interest issues.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group chair Dan Allen
La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group chair Dan Allen
(Ashley Mackin)

Gerry Braun, a representative with the City Attorney’s Office explained the opinion to La Jolla Light, “An architect might come in and consult on a project and … find a way to sculpt the project or its requirements so it fits right into that (firm’s) wheelhouse.”

At the Jan. 4 La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group meeting, chair Dan Allen called the opinion “a fly in the ointment.” Citing the Children’s Pool Walk project, Allen said local landscape architect Jim Neri has been involved with the design for six years, but cannot be involved with its completion.

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Apprised of the new opinion, Children’s Pool Walk project organizer Phyllis Minick wrote an e-mail to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Council President Sherri Lightner, stating “Mr. Neri has worked with Council President Lightner, the San Diego Park Department and the community to complete this work, which he designed with a private donation … this is an outrage!”

However, Neri told La Jolla Light, “Nobody is being malicious here, I think the city is just covering itself. … But I have been disqualified from bidding on the project. I would have worked pro bono and they kindly said no. Right now, I’m more concerned with the outcome; I just want to see this thing built. After all these years of hard work, I worry that someone else could come along and interpret the plans in the wrong way. It’s a tough thing to take, but I understand where they are coming from.”

Similarly, with the Cove Restroom Pavilion, architectural firm Safdie Rabines was contracted for the initial designs and drew up plans for the project, which were repeatedly reviewed and revised following community input. “We had public workshops and long meetings, and saw revisions to the drawings so the community could make their wants for the project known,” Allen said. “The landscape architects in both cases know what the public wants and what the community has asked for, and that knowledge will be put on ice and a new contractor will have to come along and interpret that (knowledge).”

Several members opined the decision would discourage contractors from participating in private projects. Allen summarized, “No one is going to bid on a conceptual design for the City of San Diego … why would you bid on a $25,000 design if you knew that you were excluded from building a $2 million project?”

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Neri agreed. “I now have a disincentive to work in the community,” he said. “I’ll still do it, but I’d consider it differently. Without being able to follow through on something I worked on, I’m leaving it up to chance. The next firm is coming in cold (without hearing community input) and it might be that all they care about is their fee.”

However, Braun said, “The right of the people to be free of inside maneuvering is greater than the right to have friendly contractors on their end,” and he encouraged concerned citizens to thoroughly look at the qualifications of the contractor ultimately selected to complete these projects.

The opinion follows a recent, similar situation that resulted in a lawsuit for the City of Fresno. Braun said, “The analysis of statutes and legal decisions is applied consistently where similar facts are present.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches meets 4:30 p.m. fourth Mondays at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollaparksandbeaches.org


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