Almost two years to the day the San Diego City Council ratified the votes behind formation of the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) — Nov. 15, 2016 — its validity will be challenged once again in San Diego Superior Court at a hearing set for Nov. 2.
Following the June 27 ruling that determined opponents La Jolla Benefits Association LLC did not have legal standing to challenge the MAD, its representation filed a Motion for Reconsideration on July 13 to ask Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp to revisit her Nov. 30, 2017 ruling that the formation of the MAD was invalid, and to ask the court to change the plaintiff in the suit to address the issue of legal standing.
As in previous hearings, the City of San Diego will represent the MAD, and Maria Severson of Aguirre Severson, LLP will represent La Jolla Benefits Association LLC.
In November 2016, a MAD within The Village of La Jolla was approved by a majority (weighted by property size) of the commercial and residential property owners within its boundaries. Proponents spent two years working to establish the district to raise funds for, according to its website enhancelajolla.org, additional trash collection, litter abatement, graffiti control, landscape maintenance and power-washing sidewalks. Then through the MAD, Enhance La Jolla could have the authority to privately fund and complete capital improvement projects in public spaces, such as upgraded trash cans, benches, enhanced signage, roundabouts, park improvements, public art and tree canopies on main thoroughfares.
The MAD was then ratified by the San Diego City Council on Nov. 15, 2016. After it passed, the La Jolla Benefits Association LLC was formed and it filed a lawsuit challenging the MAD’s legality on the grounds that the services the MAD would provide are services the City should be carrying out.
In November 2017, Judge Trapp ruled the formation of the MAD was unconstitutional based on La Jolla Benefits’ position. After hearing oral arguments earlier this year, on June 27, she determined La Jolla Benefits Association LLC did not have legal standing to file the case.
In speaking with La Jolla Light, Severson said: “The court has been invited to take this unnecessarily narrow view, but the court has not issued any findings contrary to (the statement) that the MAD is unlawful. The only decision that has been articulated to date regarding the validity of the MAD, found it to be invalid.
“We believe the court was led into issuing an order that would impose an assessment on the citizens within the La Jolla district after the court found in November that it was unlawful. We will be filing motions so the court can address these issues in the hopes that the previously determined unlawful assessment is not imposed on La Jolla property owners.”
Severson added that the desired outcome is to “allow the court to repose its prior ruling (finding the MAD invalid), and not have a standing issue in its way.”
The standing issue was heard during oral arguments June 8 and ruled upon June 27.
During oral arguments, plaintiff La Jolla Benefits Association LLC claimed it had legal standing because its then-manager — A-440 Enterprises, Inc. — is a commercial property owner in the MAD.
However, Judge Trapp found that at the time the complaint was filed, La Jolla Benefits Association was not managed by A-440 and therefore did not have standing. Further, by the time A-440 was managing La Jolla Benefits Association, the statute of limitations to file had expired.
The Motion for Reconsideration argues that the issue of legal standing does not change the ruling that the MAD is unconstitutional and states that Severson plans to substitute another named plaintiff to address legal standing.
The motion reads: “The pleadings could easily be amended to clarify this issue, and other commercial property owners for which La Jolla Benefits Association LLC sought justice could be named. No new facts or remedies would need be alleged, as the original writ and complaint sought invalidation not just for one, but for all affected.
“Accordingly, this Court should grant the Petitioner leave to amend to add … other commercial property owners as parties to this litigation.”
The additional commercial property owners who would be added to the suit were not named.
When the MAD was approved in 2016, non-profit organization Enhance La Jolla was tasked with managing it. Enhance La Jolla is comprised of seven commercial, non-profit and residential property owners; three board members from the La Jolla Community Foundation, which funded formation of the MAD; a member of the La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association and a community member at-large.
Enhance La Jolla acting president Ed Witt said the opponent’s motion doesn’t “surprise” him, but that the continuing litigation is “short-sighted. It doesn’t play to what I think is the spirit of La Jolla.”
Witt said Enhance La Jolla would still hold meetings regarding the MAD so they can be prepared whenever the issue is resolved.
“We were hoping we would be able to do something this calendar year, but now we don’t know how far away we are from being able to affect any change in the District.
“I believe there are so many attacks on our community and the MAD is a way for La Jolla to protect itself and have a voice in its future, regarding how it looks to residents and visitors.
“We have deterioration of maintenance and infrastructure, our sidewalks are dirty, our flowers are dying. The MAD and Enhance La Jolla are a way for La Jolla to take some control of its destiny. We need to be clean and competitive — a Village in which people would want to spend their time and money.
“People are not going to come to a broken, dirty Village; they are going to go elsewhere and that would be a shame.
“I would encourage any concerned La Jollan to let the City know they want this MAD lawsuit aggressively defended because what’s good for the MAD is good for La Jolla.”