Judge affirms MAD decision, grants go-ahead for La Jolla's Maintenance Assessment District

San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp has affirmed her decision in favor of a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) for La Jolla, clearing the way for Enhance La Jolla’s plans to establish the MAD to move forward.

Since late 2016, Judge Trapp has heard arguments back and forth in the case of La Jolla Benefits Association, LLC (which opposes the MAD) versus the City of San Diego.

After issuing a tentative ruling Nov. 1 that stated the opponents did not have legal standing to file the suit, she confirmed her decision Nov. 5.

“After months of legal battles with a vocal minority, our office successfully defended the City in this frivolous lawsuit that went against the will of the voters,” said City Attorney Mara Elliott. “Now, the community’s plans to establish a Maintenance Assessment District in La Jolla can finally move ahead.”

Calls to La Jolla Benefits Association as to whether they will appeal the decision were not answered by the Light’s press deadline.

A MAD is legal mechanism by which property owners can vote to assess themselves to pay and receive services above-and-beyond what the City of San Diego normally provides, according to the City. This above-and-beyond service level is called a “special benefit.”

The MAD for La Jolla was approved by a majority (weighted by property size and type) of the commercial and residential property owners within its boundaries in November 2016.

Soon after the MAD was passed, the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC was formed and it filed a lawsuit challenging the MAD’s legality on the grounds that services the MAD would provide are services the City should be carrying out, such as additional trash collection, litter abatement, graffiti control, landscape maintenance and power-washing sidewalks.

La Jolla Benefits Association LLC’s argument for its legal standing was based on the fact that its then-manager — A-440 Enterprises, Inc. — is a commercial property owner in the MAD.

However, Judge Trapp found in June that at the time the complaint was filed, La Jolla Benefits Association was not managed by A-440 Enterprises and therefore did not have legal standing to file a complaint. Further, by the time A-440 was managing La Jolla Benefits Association, the statute of limitations to file had expired.

As such, La Jolla Benefits Association’s legal representation Maria Severson requested in October to add plaintiffs Allison-Zongker, a California limited partnership; and the Boyadjian Seta Living Trust to the case.

However, Judge Trapp wrote in her tentative ruling: “Motions for reconsideration … are restricted to circumstances where a party offers the court some fact or circumstance not previously considered and some valid reason for not offering it earlier. Petitioner here (La Jolla Benefits Association) has not shown a new fact nor a satisfactory explanation for failing to provide the evidence earlier.”

In court chambers Nov. 2, Trapp agreed to review her decision and issue a final ruling, which she did on Nov. 5, affirming her most recent position.

The MAD will be managed by the La Jolla-based non-profit, Enhance La Jolla. The majority of Enhance La Jolla board members are property owners within the district, as required by law.

Through the MAD, Enhance La Jolla could have the authority to “enhance” City-provided services, as well as privately fund and complete capital improvement projects in public spaces, such as upgrade trash cans, install benches, augment signage, create roundabouts, make park improvements, increase public art and plant tree canopies on main thoroughfares.

Enhance La Jolla has 13 directors on its board: Seven property owners (or representatives of property owners) paying the LJMAD assessment; three members of the Board of Directors of the La Jolla Community Foundation; one member of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association; and two representatives of the La Jolla community at large.

What’s next?

Ed Witt, acting president of Enhance La Jolla, told the Light he was excited about the decision and that the board would pursue a “special assessment” to get back to work as soon as possible.

“Congratulations to La Jolla and, specifically, the MAD,” Witt said. “This ruling is great news. Now we can begin to enhance La Jolla. With all this moving forward, La Jollans will be happy with having some input as to what happens to La Jolla. I’m excited for those who work in the business district and live in the residential district,”

He said Enhance La Jolla would be working with City Council member Barbara Bry to determine the next steps, and would likely explore a special assessment to collect MAD fees.

“When the MAD was approved, the assessment — $87 annually for most residents — was collected via property tax bills, but was given back when the lawsuits began,” he said. “We’re hoping, because tax bills have already been sent out for this year, that we can start receiving money by having the County send out a separate bill. Residents within the MAD would then send in their assessment fee and the City would then give it to us.

“As soon as we can start collecting, we can start enhancing La Jolla to make it a better place to live and work. But that all depends on whether we get a special assessment, working with Barbara Bry to find all that out.”

If all goes according to plan, improvements will go into effect in the second quarter of 2019.

“We are thrilled and happy that we get to move forward with this,” Witt added. “We understand the concern of the people who brought the lawsuit because we all feel we pay too much in taxes. But we also feel the MAD gives us some control over our world in La Jolla. We are so happy to be a part of it.”

For La Jolla MAD updates and general information, visit the Enhance La Jolla website at enhancelajolla.org

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