SIO welcomes Steven Gallagher


Those who attended the La Jolla Shores Association July 13 meeting and/or the La Jolla Town Council July 14 meeting were briefly introduced to Steven Gallagher, the new assistant vice chancellor of marine sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).

His presence at the meetings seemed symbolic of his plans for SIO in the coming years. Promising to better engage the community via open houses, block parties, presentations on projects and a “neighborhood master plan,” Gallagher said changes were coming, and he wanted the community to be informed.

Offering an endorsement at the La Jolla Shores Association meeting, resident Mary Coakley Munk said, “We are so pleased to have this leadership. Steve is better to his word than anyone I’ve met, so we need to work with him … we have great leadership now.”

Starting with a community block party 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 on the campus Pawka Green (just north of the Scripps Seaside Forum, 8610 Kennel Way) he said events would provide a direct opportunity to ask questions and gather information as plans develop. “We can get some collective ideas from the community. We want to be partners with the community, so we want the community to come to our block party. We’ll have scientists out with tables and they will talk about what they’re doing, and we’ll have food trucks,” Gallagher said.

A month later, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, SIO is going to have an open house that will start a series of community open houses in the Scripps Forum. He said, “Our director will give an update on our research, some of our big accomplishments, and give the community an outline of what our plans are. We want to engage them and get their input — everything from open spaces around campus to improving circulation around here.”

These events, as well as the occasional community advisory meeting presentation, will also provide a forum for updates on the upcoming neighborhood master plan.

The SIO Master Plan

“Our goal is to have a master plan that includes not only the views of our faculty, students and staff, but also the community,” he said. “SIO is not a typical campus with a well-defined buffer and a divide between the community and the campus. There are folks who live in the Shores that walk here and exercise here. It’s a very public place. La Jolla Shores Drive runs right through the middle of campus. We’re looking at how to enhance that for the community and sustain our education and research mission for the future.”

As such, “We’ve contracted urban planning and design firm Walker Macy to consult and put together a 30-year master plan for Scripps,” he said, adding that it will address topics such as circulation in and around campus; sustainability and better utilizing native plants to save water and energy; and advice on the replacement of buildings in poor conditions.

He noted that over two-thirds of the buildings on campus are 50 years or older and in varying conditions, some in significant need of repair or modernization. For example, he said Sverdrup Hall on the campus border just needs an interior rehabilitation with no structural changes. But then there is the Center for Coastal Studies, which is right next to the pier, in very poor condition and in need of replacement. Other buildings have issues with rebar within the concrete expanding due to the salty air, which Gallagher said rather than invest in repeated repairs, it might be wiser to build something more sustainable.

But before anything gets built, he said the community would be provided the chance to give input – and that timing is everything.

“The idea is to present early enough that everyone’s input is considered and late enough that we have had the opportunity to scope out costs and ideas,” Gallagher said. “For example, we’re looking at alternatives for the old Southwest Sciences Fisheries Center, but it’s so early on we don’t have cost estimates or geo-technical reports, so we won’t present yet. We want to formulate the idea, then get input, then modify and continue. Hopefully the working group (of UCSD planners and members of La Jolla Community Planning Association) will help us find that place.”

And anything that gets built would be so to further the research and educational mission of SIO. In addition to the new facilities, 14 new faculty are coming in — whereas Scripps typically gets three to four each year — both fully assigned to Scripps and joint-appointments.

Gallagher explained, “The idea is to use inter-disciplinary approaches to solve problems. We have some joint-appointments from the UCSD School of Pharmacy that are looking at compounds out of the ocean that could be used to cure cancer. We want to tap that capacity and work together to solve problems because a lot of times problems are not singular in their cause and the solutions are never that simple. The other advantage is that a lot of research requires expensive equipment … and this is a more collaborative use of assets.”

Noticeably excited to work for Scripps, Gallagher said he moved to La Jolla Shores a little more than six months ago from Hawaii. “I worked in Washington DC for a number of years, but most recently spent five years in Hawaii building and running the Inouye Regional Center, the Pacific home for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work at Scripps,” he said. Gallagher replaces Doug Bennett, who served as assistant vice chancellor at Scripps Oceanography from December 2006 to August 2015.

Gallagher and his wife Ashley have one grown daughter, who lives in Texas. While he grew up in Indiana, Gallagher was born in England and is to this day an avid traveler and hiker. It should be no surprise that his favorite part of working at Scripps is walking the campus.

“In the middle of the campus, around the IGPP (Munk) Lab, there are these historic cottages. You get the sense of this beautiful aesthetic design and all the thought that went into the architecture, and then you walk through the cottages and see all the history, but above all, the stunning natural beauty. It’s one of the most beautiful walks in Southern California.”

You can reach Gallagher at