La Jolla merchants director resigns, ballot measure fight ahead

Sheila Fortune has resigned as executive director of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), the position she has held since 2012. She made the announcement at the LJVMA board meeting on June 13 at the Riford Library.

“It’s time for me to find something else fun and new to do — a new chapter,” she said vaguely. “But it’s been an incredible ride. I’ve loved working with everyone that I’ve worked with and seeing all the positive changes. And I’ll still be around someplace, looking over your shoulders.”

Fortune said she would stay on full-time until closing out the fiscal year later this month. After that point, she said, she would still defend LJVMA’s audit and help with the election process — which will not produce her replacement until the November board meeting — until her last day, which she identified as Oct. 10.

New LJVMA president Alisha Hawrylyszyn Frank thanked Fortune for “all her hard work” and for being “so gracious” through the transition.

“Sheila could very easily give have given two weeks’ notice and walked away, but she’s sticking with us,” Hawrylyszyn Frank said.

Good luck with that

Fortune wished the merchants group good luck facing one of its biggest potential threats ever: a measure called the Tax Fairness, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2018, which is currently gathering signatures to qualify for the November 2018 ballot. The proposal would severely restrict fees such as those charged by LJVMA and other Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to their members.

“If it passes, the BIDs will be out of business,” Fortune said. “Whoever was looking out for us at the top was not looking out for us.”

Fortune said City attorney Mara Elliott’s office, Congressman Scott Peters’ office and the City’s Economic Development office were all “looking into it.” But she also said that Elliott’s office was “not all that motivated to help because they get sued on behalf of the BIDs more than the benefit of the money that comes out of them.

“Right now, all I can tell you is you need to start writing (Council member) Barbara Bry, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, everyone,” Fortune said. “Get on it. Anyone who knows anyone, please reach out.”

New pedestrian mall suggested

Speaking during public comment and, she emphasized, not on behalf of her employer, J.McLaughlin store manager Natalie Aguirre suggested making a pedestrian walkway out of the area surrounding the intersection of Girard Avenue and Prospect Street.

“Recently, I was in Little Italy and I noticed that street where they shut off the traffic and put in that fountain,” Aguirre said. “It was an important place that they sacrificed for people to walk and sit and congregate. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could close off that confusing corner by the Athenaeum, where nobody knows which way to drive anyway, and create something beautiful?”Hawrylyszyn Frank applauded the idea, and three other board members strongly urged Aguirre to run for a seat on the board because of the passion she showed for it.

Fortune interjected, however, that the idea was pie-in-the-sky based on the fate of a similar project.

“Belvedere was approved by the city four or five years ago,” she said. “We talked to all the property owners, they were all in support, until it got around to somebody coughing up the money to pay (the $2-$5 million) for it. The problem is that once you change that (street), you now own it, and the owners of the properties there would not agree to pay to maintain the property.”Fortune added: “Little Italy has millions in parking revenue alone.”— The La Jolla Village Merchants Association next meets Wed., July 11 at 3 p.m. in the La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave.

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