Art or ad? Car display in La Jolla raises community questions


A decorative marquee over the O’Gara Coach and McClaren car dealership at 7440 La Jolla Blvd. is causing some debate in the community: Some consider it a piece of art that does not merit any local review, others say it is an unpermitted billboard that is disruptively lit at night.

The image, hoisted to the upper portion of the dealership, is of a McLaren car, which is sold in the showroom below.

Questions about the piece were posed at the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) meeting, Dec. 6, and also by concerned residents who reached out to La Jolla Light.

“They light up their mural at about 5 p.m. (every night),” one resident told the Light. “It’s all that I see now from my apartment at night — both from my living room and bedroom against the dark sky. It wakes me up, of course, and now this mural, so high up, is harder to ignore than the lights in the showroom.”

La Jolla resident Melinda Merryweather called it a “billboard” when she spoke to the LJCPA. “It’s a big, giant billboard over La Jolla Boulevard with four spotlights over the business,” she said, adding that she filed a complaint with the City of San Diego’s Code Compliance department.

She later told the Light: “It is a billboard because it is an image of a car that is sold beneath it in the building. We are not allowed to have billboards in La Jolla. There is artwork and then there is a picture of a product. When I saw it, I was shocked because billboards are not allowed.”

LJCPA trustee David Little suggested the piece go before the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO) committee for review. This committee is tasked with reviewing projects for compliance to La Jolla’s Planned District, or blueprint for development. PDO findings go before LJCPA for ratification.

LJCPA trustee Glen Rasmussen opined: “Businesses are not allowed to have illuminated signs and the size of the sign is governed by the PDO, so this should be something easy to resolve.”

The sign is located within Zone Four of the PDO, which includes Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard. The PDO reads: “This zone includes neighborhood commercial areas characterized by small retail shops. Development in this zone is dominated by community-serving and visitor-service retail uses. This area, unlike the other zones, is automobile-oriented because of its location along major streets.”

However, PDO committee chair Deborah Marengo said the image is more similar to the public art that hangs around La Jolla as part of the Murals of La Jolla program than any advertising that would merit a review. “We approved the Murals of La Jolla program way back when, and they (rotate in and out) all the time and do not come before the PDO for review each time, so I don’t see why this would,” she said.

Marengo’s husband, Claude Anthony Marengo, is a principal at Marengo Morten Architects, which designed the building. A statement sent to La Jolla Light from the O’Gara showroom credited to Claude Anthony Marengo reads: “It’s artwork and not signage. It celebrates and evokes clean lines of a beautiful sculpture.”

Showroom general manger Shawn Lawler added: “The artwork is not signage by any means. It serves as art that beautifies the community at night and doesn’t harm neighbors. It provides security and visibility where, otherwise, people might congregate. We have dealt with transients sleeping on the lot at night, leaving behind needles, beer/wine bottles, etc. on the premises. The authorities have had to come here several times with aggressive confrontations, one (suspect) had to be tased on the showroom floor.”

La Jolla PDO committee meets when there are items to review, 4 p.m. second Mondays at the La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. However, it has reportedly not been meeting due to lack of items. It is not known if the McLaren work will go before the PDO.