Who’s Caring for Laureate Park?
La Jolla Light recently received a letter critiquing the maintenance of Laureate Park in La Jolla Shores. In the writer’s mind, the park is not being adequately cared for, and is in need of attention.
While looking into the situation, the Light has learned it is a City park, with a curious history. Alternatively called Laureate Park and/or Mata Park, the public pocket park sits on Avenida de la Playa between Paseo del Ocaso and El Paseo Grande, fronting the La Jolla Shores Plaza. There are no tables or chairs, but spacious areas of open grass.
Soon after the adjacent building was constructed and what was then called Mata Park was created in the 1970s, a community project was initiated to raise funds for ongoing care of the area and to keep it open to the public. Community members rallied, and those who donated money were able to etch their family names or handprints into a block of wet cement. Most of those blocks now make up the border of the park on the sidewalk. Some were taken out over the years as the pump station at the park was renovated.
“I can tell by the size of my brother’s handprints that we were little kids when that fundraising effort was underway,” said Lorraine Schmalenberger, La Jolla Shores Surfing Association president. “My parents were involved in that, and it couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred dollars a person.”
In the years that followed, a project to convert the park into a tribute to local Nobel Laureates was broached. “The idea was to honor the Laureates in San Diego and La Jolla,” explained resident Janie Emerson. “There was discussion of pillars with busts with Laureate winners, etc. but it never went any place.”
Resident Pam Boynton added: “There are, I think, 12 Nobel Laureates who live in La Jolla or have a connection to UC San Diego. But when the idea of creating statues came up, people thought it was bad idea because of maintenance concerns. Some thought it would look like a cemetery.”
The project didn’t go anywhere, but the park name stuck.
In the middle of that discussion, Emerson said, the City announced a pump station would be going into park: “The City came out and started digging things up and threw away the pavers (with people’s names). My family’s block got thrown away. The few that are there, are there because we threw a fit to keep them.”
Since then, the pump station has been replaced or repaired several times, postponing any further maintenance of the park. The most recent replacement was during the infamous Avenida de la Playa road work of 2013 to 2017. The current pump station is identified as the “City of San Diego: Laureate Park” location, and is surrounded by plants, including jasmine flowers, but some argue the vegetation has gotten out of hand.
Going forward, Emerson said: “It is tough to get the City’s Parks Department to do anything” in terms of maintenance. “The best plan would be to have it be open to public use and enjoyment, right now it just has dead grass. But just having a nice space with benches would make it appealing,” she added. “People have mentioned making it like a kid’s space, but it would be nice to see benches there for people who work in the area or those visiting. But there is no police enforcement to keep anyone from sleeping there.”
As for park maintenance plans?
City spokesperson Tim Graham said: “With the increased rains, maintenance crews have experienced some delays in addressing all of the weed removal issues in City parks. That said, maintenance staff visits Laureate Park on a daily basis to handle trash removal, etc. Crews will be addressing the removal of weeds in the park shortly. The City’s Get It Done mobile app is a good way to notify the City of any maintenance issues related to parks.”
The Get It Done app can be found at sandiego.gov/get-it-done