Tah Dah! Children’s Pool Plaza unveiling Dec. 9 in La Jolla

After eight years of planning, fundraising, collaborating, working with the City and waiting, the unveiling of the Children’s Pool Plaza (formerly known as the Children’s Pool Walk Beautification Project) is a mere days away: 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at 834 Coast Blvd.

Festivities will include a chance to walk the improved sidewalk above Children’s Pool, music by DJ Ron Jones, onsite book check out with La Jolla Library Youth Services librarian Angie Stava, and a photo stand (boy and girl surfers with face space) for picture taking. There will also be ice cream until supplies run out.

Ahead of the opening, City of San Diego maintenance crews painted the green gazebo (aka belvedere) at that location, and a plaque recognizing donors was affixed to a rock.

“I’m a little stunned it is actually happening,” said Phyllis Minick, project organizer and longtime La Jollan. “It’s a little project in a small area, but the importance of it is that it will be one link in what will be the remodeling and improvement of the entire downtown La Jolla/Coast Boulevard area.

“(Other examples include) the Whale View Point projects, some of which are done, and others that are coming; there are some improvements to landscaping at The Cove; and within two years, the City expects to build the new restroom pavilion. This will bring that whole area — one of the most-visited sites in San Diego — to its best possible outcome. And La Jolla deserves a revival.”

The Children Pool Plaza project will enhance pedestrian flow, install visitor “sitting walls” with vegetation, and improve aesthetics on the sidewalk area above La Jolla’s Children’s Pool beach. The stairs leading to the beach and seawall remain accessible during construction.

This is the latest iteration of the project, which has been in process and repeatedly revised since 2010. 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) the gazebo fronting 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 will remain.

And while the project really started moving in 2010, the idea had been growing since the 1980s. At that time, Minick said: “A booklet came out that was an analysis written by a group of architects and engineers in La Jolla … it described the segments that make up Coast Boulevard and commented on each one.”

Of the area above Children’s Pool, Minick recalls it only having one line: “neglected and unattractive.”

So on a sunny Sunday, she walked to the viewing area above Children’s Pool.

“The sidewalk from the lifeguard station to the belvedere was just 18 inches wide in some places. People were walking in the street, pushing baby strollers, pushing bikes, and cars were pulling in and out. It was so dangerous-looking to me and so overcrowded. That got me started,” she said.

After some meetings with neighbors to come up with a concept, and collaborating with landscape architect Jim Neri on a design, Minick got the ball rolling for improvements in 2010.

Around that time, Neri’s renderings were approved by the La Jolla Parks & Beaches committee as a private project. (A later Fair Political Practices Commission opinion, issued in 2016, 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 and made the Children’s Pool redevelopment a public-private partnership, with Rick Engineering at the helm.)

As the City was preparing to replace the lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool in 2013, one idea was to have the sidewalk replacement done at the same time under the umbrella of previously approved permits.

However, the City determined that would not be possible, and work on the Children’s Pool Plaza would have to wait. 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, and opened in June 2016.

While construction on the lifeguard tower was intermittently underway, the City produced its required environmental documents and identified additional funding for the beautification project. City engineers set construction for June 2017.

At the 11th hour, in May 2017, engineers determined the wall that lines the Children’s Pool may be historic, which would affect any improvements, and then there were safety issues to be addressed. The City said it would explore “scaled down” alternatives to the more elaborate plans originally submitted.

To bypass the historical roadblocks, City crews decided to move the scope of work away from the wall in order to proceed.

Work began in July and the fencing that surrounds the new viewing area is set to come down in the days leading up to the Dec. 9 party.

“Despite all the time it has taken, we at La Jolla Parks & Beaches — and as individuals who do community projects — are so grateful that this has been done and the additional projects are coming to fruition,” Minick said, thanking San Diego planner Meredith Dawson for her support on the City side, the local community planning groups that voted to support the project, and La Jollans Patrick Ahern and Joe LaCava for their “informal” mentorship.

“Phyllis Minick gets all the credit, she made this happen,” opined Neri. “She is more than a rock star, she is a force of nature. She has more energy than most 25-year-olds I know. She has unfailingly committed herself to this project all the way though. Even though there were points of discouragement, she got back on her feet and carried right on. I cannot say enough about this woman.”