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Residents turn out to oppose Marine St. Memorial Mall: La Jolla Parks & Beaches board could vote on the proposal, Feb. 25

The proposal for a “Marine Memorial Mall” at Marine Street may not have the force needed to get off the ground, based on the response from the Barber Tract community and the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory board (LJP&B).

Approximately 50 people attended the LJP&B meeting Jan. 28 at the Rec Center to learn more about or speak out against the project, widening the eyes of board members as the meeting neared its start time. The board did not vote on the proposal because the item was docketed as “information only,” however, Barber Tract residents requested it schedule a vote at the next meeting.

Renderings of the proposed Marine Memorial Mall show the placement of orange clam-shaped seating and blue waterways throughout the park. Ashley Mackin-Solomon

Drafted by La Jolla resident Erik Holtsmark, and introduced in late 2018 with architectural drawings, the plan is to develop the end of Marine Street (where it meets its namesake beach) into a plaza with memorial benches, nautical-themed sculptures, light fixtures, water features, restrooms, ground vegetation and a new station for area lifeguards.

It would have components that could be dedicated to loved ones, such as benches or sculptures, and would be privately funded. Theoretically, if constructed, Holtsmark said maintenance would be handled by the City and that he estimates construction costs at $4.5 million.

He presented his plans to the LJP&B board and its many attendees to elaborate further.

“I realize there is going to be emotional opposition to this vision,” he opened. “But as a concept, the objectives are (to name a few) to support Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s program to create more small parks, turn an unattractive blight into an enjoyable space, provide short-term parking, establish seating facilities for viewing the ocean, improve awareness of sea life, and build proper lifeguard and restroom facilities.”

Along with his plans, he shared his history, which includes decades of living in the area; what the area looks like now; a self-created survey of surrounding house; and maps of existing utilities.

As he showing project renderings from different angles, some of them drew gasps and groans from the audience (with one attendee muttering “This looks like Disneyland”) — especially at the mention of possible vending machines at the beach and the placement of lower-level facilities, which some argued would not withstand high tides and dramatic changes in sand levels throughout the year.

In speaking for those opposed, resident Jack Defranco said his presentation reflected the comments and the response from approximately 30 residents who live nearby. “Not a single person is in favor of this park,” he said, before summarizing their objections.

“We have a huge problem with homeless people right now, and adding a park here would probably increase the loitering, especially with water features they could use for bathing and laundry … and benches for sleeping,” he argued. “And the park does not fit the character of the neighborhood as it is now.”

But the most important issue, Defranco said, is the access for emergency vehicles that would be blocked by the plaza (the end of Marine Street is currently red curbed on either side).

“Marine Street beach is a dangerous beach; it has a heavy rip tide, has high waves, and so it is not an easy beach for people to swim in,” Defranco said. “That whole area where the park is proposed is used by the police department for staging their vehicles when they patrol the beach. They take up all of that space and emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, use that space and it is usually accompanied by a lifeguard truck or fire truck.

“Emergency vehicles have to have access to that area for quick response. Having them park several hundred feet away from the access would endanger the lives of those being rescued there.”

After hearing from both sides, LJP&B chair Ann Dynes said: “We have vetted it, listened to feedback and I cannot find a single person who can support this proposal.” Nevertheless, she commended Holsmark for the “work that went into it.” She opted not to take a board vote, predicting it would be one to reject the project. However, it could potentially be listed as an action item and therefore subject to a vote at the next meeting. Residents in attendance encouraged such action, given that LJP&B is an advisory group to the City.

The project is considered in the “conceptual stage” but Holtsmark’s plans have also been submitted to the San Diego Park & Rec Department.

In other LJP&B news:

La Jolla parks projects funded: Representing District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry, Mauricio Medina said she has recommended the City fund two projects for La Jolla Parks in the forthcoming City budget.

“In the beginning of the year, every City Council office sends the Independent Budget Analyst a memo with their Council priorities,” he explained. “Council member Bry included in her memo (funding for) a handrail along the south side of the Marine Room restaurant, and repairs to the roof and drains at the North Comfort Station at Kellogg Park.”

The first was spearheaded by LJP&B member Patrick Ahern, and approved by both the La Jolla Shores Association and the La Jolla Community Planning Association. The latter was requested by the Shores Association.

Bry also recommended funding to complete a sidewalk widening project leading to the newly unveiled Children’s Pool Plaza.

The Mayor is expected to release his budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 in the spring.

New officers elected: The LJP&B election committee presented a slate of officers for the board’s annual election, given there was not more than one candidate for each position. The slate, which includes Dynes as chair, Bob Evans as secretary and Dan Allen as corresponding secretary, was approved unanimously.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets 4 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. A board website is being finalized, but has a landing pad with basic information at lajollaparksbeaches.org

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