La Jolla Planning Association faces leadership shortage

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) is facing a crisis in leadership that some are calling “the most serious problem” the board has faced in over a decade. At the June 1 meeting at La Jolla Rec Center, acting chair Helen Boyden explained the unique challenges that “have never happened before” on the board: As of the next meeting, LJCPA is without a president. Further, neither the first vice-president or second vice-president are willing or able to assume the role.

Recently re-elected president Cindy Greatrex has missed three meetings in a row due to a death in her family. During the board’s May meeting, during which Greatrex was not in attendance (for the second month in a row), she was re-elected president. However, she was also not in attendance at the June meeting. Thus, according to the group’s bylaws, she had to abdicate her seat as LJCPA president and as a trustee.

Boyden, acting as chair in Greatrex’s absence, announced at the June meeting that she would not be able to continue in her assumed role. “My abilities as first vice-president are, for very personal reasons, very limited. My home responsibilities are changing very much and I will not be available for meetings. I didn’t expect this change,” she said.

Coincidentally, second-vice president Robert Steck also has an evolving health situation at home to address. “It also makes my time very limited,” he said.

Boyden told the board, “This will be a very difficult transition … but we are going to discuss with City personnel our options for a special election or other election process.”

LJCPA treasurer Janie Emerson suggested the remaining appointed officers work together to divvy up the duties so “nothing falls through the cracks. In July we can put together a cohesive plan,” she said.

In addition to the presidential succession, the secretary position has been in flux — and under criticism — for the last several months.

Rather than having a secretary who consistently records the meeting minutes, Patrick Ahern served as corresponding secretary and there’s been a system of rotating minute-takers. At the end of each meeting, names were drawn to appoint the next month’s recording secretary. At the May election, Dolores Donovan was elected as secretary, with the caveat that the rotation system of minute-taking continues.

Member-at-large Gail Forbes critiqued the way the board has handled its leadership. “So far, your secretary has not been required to take minutes … You don’t have a president, you don’t have a secretary that wants to take minutes, and both the vice-presidents are hampered,” she said.

LJCPA trustee Dan Courtney echoed: “We’re having problems here. This is probably the most serious problem the LJCPA has had in 10 or 15 years. No one wants to do the grunt work (of minute-taking), which is understandable ... It is not fair to the groups and projects that are presented here. I don’t know what the solution is, but one way or another, we need to get back on track. Maybe more people need to step up and serve, or maybe some of the older trustees need to step down and let new trustees, who have time for these duties, step up. Maybe we need to recruit new trustees.”

Joining the board

Those interested in becoming members must attend one monthly meeting and fill out a membership application. To qualify for a trustee seat, members must attend three meetings.

To qualify: An individual must at least 18 years old and affiliated with the community as a: 1) Property owner, who is an individual identified as the sole or partial owner of record … within the La Jolla Community Plan boundaries, or 2) Resident, who is an individual whose primary address of residence is an address within the La Jolla Community Plan boundaries, or 3) Local businessperson.

According to its website, LJCPA is a City-sanctioned land-use advisory committee that makes recommendations to the City Council, Planning Commission, City staff and other governmental agencies on land-use matters — specifically concerning the preparation of, adoption of, implementation of, or amendment to, the General Plan or a land-use plan when a plan relates to the La Jolla Community Plan boundaries. LJCPA also advises on other land-use matters as requested by the City or other governmental agency.

LJCPA meets monthly (6 p.m. first Thursdays at the Rec Center) to hear updates from elected officials; ratify the findings of LJCPA sub-committees such as La Jolla Traffic & Transportation advisory group, Development Permit Review committee, Planned District Ordinance advisory group and La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee.

Former chair weighs in

Joe LaCava, former LJCPA chair and community volunteer, said there is an ebb and flow in community activism, but citizens still have a responsibility to step up.

“I’ve found that a lot of Planning Group activity depends a lot on what’s going on. People will engage in conversation when it’s something they care about or if they have a complaint, but most people think they have better things to do,” he said. “They don’t get involved unless they are angry at something. Then they are involved — and if you’re lucky — they stick around. I’ve watched planning groups over the years and they have ups and downs. They either have competitive board elections or can’t drum up interest.”

For example, he said in Carmel Valley, when the controversial One Paseo project was making the rounds, there were huge numbers of residents turning up at planning board meetings. More recently, there has been difficulty recruiting new members to the Carmel Valley board, to the point that the number of board seats has been reduced.

Part of the ongoing challenges to attracting new members, LaCava opined, include the lack of immediate gratification and the heated arguments that take place.

“People like to see things happen because of their volunteer efforts. But community planning groups are not like that. You review a project and may not see it get built for two or three years,” he said. “There also has to be a little bit of civility at the meetings. It is an eye-opener when you sit in the back, watch people fight and hear people say, ‘Who would want to do this?’

“Well, as residents of the community, we’re all in this together. We should be working together. You have to respect each other even if you disagree. Meetings can be more thorough this way and be a better experience. The better the experience, the more likely you are to attract more participants.”

As to what makes a “good” LJCPA trustee, La Cava suggested the best board members: stay committed and take the job seriously; know how a meeting runs; help their fellow trustees and chair run a good meeting; make themselves well-informed about the jurisdiction of planning groups; step up and do the heavy lifting when needed; and be part of a larger cause and understand that responsibility.

La Jolla Community Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, July 6 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.