Judge hears latest La Jolla MAD argument, final ruling expected soon

San Diego Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp is expected to issue a final ruling within the coming weeks, in the most recent iteration of the La Jolla Benefits Association, LLC vs the City of San Diego, as it pertains to the proposed La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District (MAD), following the filing of requests for changes to the case.

In early October, La Jolla Benefits Association (who oppose the MAD) applied to have the plaintiffs in the case changed to address a concern about “legal standing,” and submitted a motion for reconsideration to Judge Trapp. On Nov. 1, the judge filed a tentative ruling denying La Jolla Benefits Association’s request. But in her court chambers downtown on Nov. 2, Trapp agreed to take the motion into submission, meaning the decision could change or become final as is. Her decision was not rendered as of press time.

As previously reported in the Light, La Jolla Benefits Association LLC’s legal standing (the right to file a suit) 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. Allison-Zongker is a non-residential building operator based in La Jolla, headed by Don Allison. Seta Boyadjian of the Boyadjian Seta Living Trust, is La Jolla developer Claude-Anthony Marengo’s mother and owner of a beauty salon in La Jolla.

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, Severson represented La Jolla Benefits Association and San Diego Deputy City Attorney Carmen Brock represented the City of San Diego by phone. Judge Trapp was asked to reconsider her position so “the right call is made,” because according to Severson, the facts of the case are the same, just the plaintiffs are different.

Brock countered that the property owners who wished to have signed onto this case, had the opportunity to file before now, “but they didn’t step forward,” she said. “This LLC was created so individuals would not have to come forward and identify themselves.”

Judge Trapp added that the only grounds for reconsideration are if there are new facts in the case, changes to the law or a satisfactory answer as to why the new details were not reported previously, and that any new motion would have to be pursuant to these terms.

Nevertheless, she agreed to review her decision and issue a final ruling in the coming weeks.

La Jolla MAD history

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.

In November 2017, Judge Trapp ruled the formation of the MAD was unconstitutional based on La Jolla Benefits’ position. But on June 27, she determined La Jolla Benefits Association LLC did not have the legal standing to file the case, leading to the most recent legal hearing.

Should the MAD prevail, it would 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.

The board has not met in months pending resolution of this litigation.