La Jolla Permitters block City on public right-of-way vacation

It’s only .469 acres, but it’s the domino that could set all the other dominoes of undeveloped land around La Jolla tumbling in the name of the almighty dollar.

At its Rec Center meeting on Tuesday, March 13, a defiant La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) voted 7-1 to recommend denying the City its application for a public right-of-way vacation for a parcel at Fay Avenue and West Muirlands Drive. The vote was intended as a clear message that La Jolla cannot lose another square foot of public land to private development when it desperately needs of more open space, parks and parking lots.

Originally acquired by the City for a long-completed 1960s street expansion, the parcel is still classified as a street until that restriction is lifted. At that point, the City can do whatever it wants with it. Representing the City, asset manager Mary Carlson argued that part of the reason the City wants to vacate the property is that it houses a run-down, vacant duplex and, “right now, there are no funds to renovate it.”

But DPR members thought that letting a run-down house stand wasn’t nearly as bad for the neighborhood as setting a precedent for the remaining rare patches of open City land all being lost to more high-end development.

“There are supposed to be a lot more parks than there are,” said committee member Mike Costello. “I think there are supposed to be another 43,000 acres of park. And you can’t take the kids for a picnic at La Jolla Underwater Park.”

Committee member Elizabeth Gaenzle suggested the parcel could be dedicated to parking for the nearby La Jolla High School. “What parking they do have is for staff only, so the kids are parking on side streets,” she said.Neighbor David Little, speaking during public comment, suggested a public skate park.

City property agent Dena Boylan, jointly presenting with Carlson, tried quelling the committee’s concerns. “We’re not currently selling the property,” she said. “We’re just here for a right of way vacation. It’s just a mapping action.”

Carlson added that the City would need City Council approval for any sale, which could very well be to an affordable-housing developer. And addressing neighbor Michelle Storm, who voiced fears of being phased out of the opportunity to keep her own driveway access, Carlson promised: “I wouldn’t just screw you, to use your words.”Costello commented that he just didn’t trust the City’s intentions. It’s likely, he said, that the property will be sold to a developer who pays so much, there will be no concern for neighbors’ driveway easements.

“I’ve seen how bureaucracies do things,” Costello said. “I am suspicious as to why this is being initiated.”

Former Muirlands co-developer Bob Collins cast the only dissenting vote, siding with the City.At this point, the City can proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association with a no-vote from DPR and take its chances, come back to DPR with changes or decide no longer to pursue the matter.

Get a garage, Golba!

Next on the firing line was architect Tim Golba, applying for a Coastal Development Permit for the construction of a 2,686-square-foot, single-family build with a roof deck and attached carport on a .01-acre vacant lot at 5543 Waverly Ave.

Did that mention of the carport sneak by you? It doesn’t sneak by anyone at DPR anymore. It’s a cheat to increase the size of the house because carports, unlike garages, don’t compute into the floor-to-area ratio (FAR). Golba proposed a carport walled in on two sides but with, inexplicably, a garage door.

“The other two sides are 100 percent open,” Golba said.

Costello said he’s never seen a carport last a week beyond the first move-in date.

“The owner moves in and, all of a sudden, one wall is half sealed off and, two days later it’s completely sealed off,” he said.

DPR member Diane Kane said building a carport like this, in such a high-end neighborhood, is “really demeaning.”

Golba ignored the comments, arguing that, in this neighborhood, “at least 50 percent of garages have no car in on it, but the beauty of the carport is that it forces people to put cars in front of them.” (Presumably, this was in reference to residents using their garages as storage and parking their cars on the street.)

It went on like this for 45 minutes, until Golba was forced to admit what everyone in the room already knew: “On this size lot, the problem is that it pummels the viability of the square footage,” he said. (The house is at 5.9 FAR; 6.0 is legal.) “I work with what I’m given,” Golba said.

For his next review, Golba was asked to make the carport a garage and remove 400 square feet from the house design.

“We’d be down to a two-bedroom home!” Golba objected, to which Kane replied: “Not my problem. It’s a small lot. It needs a small house on it”

DPR chair Brian Will also asked Golba to consider lowering the house’s height, and to return with a 3D overhead site plan with neighboring homes, a street montage of elevations, and a photograph of neighborhood “to illustrate the houses that have carports.”

Colima Street

When architect Elizabeth Carmichael presented her plans to demolish an existing single-dwelling unit and construct two new 4,859-square-foot two-story units at 623 Colima Street, the first thing Gaenzle did was thank her for including garages.

“I did want to lead with that — that we have garages,” Carmichael said, eliciting chuckles from the committee.

The questions this time focused on aesthetics and parking.

“I think you’ve got way too much stuff going on in a small area,” Kane said. “I think you’ve got a lot of different materials. Tone it down just a bit, and I would like to see how that works in concert with the rest of the street.”

Gaenzle expressed concern about losing pick-up and drop-off parking for Bird Rock Elementary.

“That’s standing, not parking,” Carmichael said, adding that “I don’t think that’s the purview of the property owner.”

Elizabeth was asked provide a montage including both structures and both adjacent neighbors, an aerial photo with project footprint super-imposed and a site plan of curb cuts that shows how parking is affected, a 3D or elevation to see how buildings stagger, and a materials board.

50 percent committed

DPR also voted unanimously to mail a letter, written by Kane, protesting both serial permitting and the “50 percent rule,” to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for submittal to City attorney Mara Elliott, with a cc: to Council member Barbara Bry.

The 50 percent rule is currently used to bypass community review and the need for a Coastal Development Permit (which can cost thousands of dollars and years to obtain) and has led to what’s become known as “mansionization.” Under the rule, a project is classified as a “remodel” if 50 percent of the original walls are retained.

“We don’t like the current exempt system,” Will said. “It’s not in keeping with the original intent. The serial (permitting) just seems to be a blatant violation.”

Added Costello, crystallizing the feeling in the room: “Everything that you’ve said here, we’d all said with curse words proceeding. it’s just so frustrating what the City is allowing. Is this (letter) the right way to go about it? I don’t think it would hurt. I don’t know that Mara Elliott will do anything, but I guess it doesn’t hurt.”DPR next meets 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.