‘Su Casa’ building project ready to go: La Jolla restaurant may close as soon as the end of summer

Plans to demolish the local Mexican restaurant (and happy hour staple) Su Casa and the adjoining residential building to construct a residential-commercial mixed-use structure in their place at 6738 La Jolla Blvd., received unanimous approval from the San Diego City Council on July 25 at Council Chambers downtown.

The project calls for three buildings following the slope of the terrain containing 16 residential units, 3,000 feet of commercial space and a parking garage for a total of 28,884-square-foot gross floor area.

The location of the driveway, one of the most controversial points in the plans, was set for the front of the building along La Jolla Boulevard. “We felt that having the driveway on the La Jolla Boulevard side gave the most visibility, the least amount of traffic for our beaches, and it accommodates the neighborhood. We have good visibility in both north and south directions,” applicant Claude-Anthony Marengo told the City Council.

Plans also include the vacation of public right-of-way sections and the dedication of areas to public right-of-way. “That gives us a straight line, when we’re building the structure we’re not having to do radius items. It also gives us, which is beneficial to the community, the 10-foot sidewalks all the way around the building,” he added.

Asked when the restaurant would close its doors so construction could start, Marengo told La Jolla Light, “We know the restaurant is going to close but we haven’t discussed when, logic is that it closes after summer.”

As previously reported in the Light, once the project garnered approval from the City Council, it would break ground in 4-6 months. According to those calculations, construction may start anywhere from November 2017 to January 2018, with a 16- to 24-month period to finish the buildings.

On the Su Casa block along La Jolla Boulevard sit a few palm trees the developer has vowed “to keep as many as possible.” Also, the planting of Jacaranda trees between the palms will complete the Boulevard-look detailed in the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance, Marengo explained.

As to why the owner of the Su Casa building decided to sell the property, Marengo told the Council the land was his retirement fund. He later explained to the Light, “An elderly gentleman owns property and restaurant, and he wanted to retire with a good, healthy amount of money.”

Affordable Housing

The residential building adjacent to Su Casa restaurant — made up of 16 housing units — includes four affordable housing dwellings, dedicated to low-income homeowners or renters. The developer plans to give up the affordable housing (as often happens in the coastal zone) and pay the in-lieu fee as allowed by the San Diego Municipal Code.

However, Council member David Álvarez took issue at the loss of — much needed — affordable housing and asked Marengo the reasoning behind eliminating the units. “It wasn’t feasible in terms of how we developed the building,” Marengo replied. “It’s a Catch 22 situation in that if I could achieve more density on site I would be able to get more affordable housing, but I couldn’t (because of local regulations).”

“I understand you’re following the rules,” Álvarez told Marengo, “the issue of not allowing areas of the City to accommodate for affordable housing is an issue that kind of bothers me a little bit. I’ll support this today because you are who you are and have done what you had to do, but this has given us some (light) on the future of a community that may not be able to build the affordable housing needed.”

Next, the amount of the in-lieu fee paid by Marengo to circumvent the affordable housing requirement was discussed. The payment totaled $124,000 for the four units (averaging $31,000 per unit). Council member Georgette Gómez commented, “Part of my housing plan is to update the in-lieu fee to make it more equitable because these are four units and (what we’re getting) it’s not going to get us one unit. It seems like we’re doing something wrong here and it’s very concerning … this is not your fault, but it’s something we need to resolve.”

A motion put forth by District 1 Council member Barbara Bry to move the project forward received unanimous support from her fellow Council members.