Incorporate La Jolla launches Initial Fiscal Analysis for cityhood

La Jolla is known for its coastal locale. Pictured is one of the local landmarks, Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier. As one of the world's biggest research piers, Scripps Pier is used for boat launching and a variety of experiments conducted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
(La Jolla Light File Photo)

Incorporate La Jolla, the group seeking La Jolla’s secession from the City of San Diego, has completed the first “substantial step” toward cityhood. Formerly known as Independent La Jolla, the group has contracted with Sacramento-based Economic & Planning Systems (EPS) to undertake an Initial Fiscal Analysis of the proposed incorporation of La Jolla as its own city.

EPS Managing Principal Jamie Gomes confirmed to La Jolla Light: “We are in the midst of working out a contract,” and that the details are being finalized.

The study would take “conservatively” 3-6 months, Gomes said, and cost anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 to complete. Incorporate La Jolla member Melinda Merryweather said funding for the study came from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

“We will be looking at the demographics of the La Jolla community and the City of San Diego budget that contains the information we would want to examine,” Gomes said. “Because this is an initial study, it is really one of the first steps in this process.”

As to why Incorporate La Jolla was pushing for the study, Merryweather said: “I think the possibility (La Jolla becoming its own city) is stronger than ever before because people are so dissatisfied with the condition of La Jolla. We want to make it better for everyone. La Jolla could look like Carmel — it just needs to be maintained and preserved, its historic buildings saved, the town’s trees trimmed. We can bring La Jolla back to what it was.”

She cited as an example Coronado — a city independent of the City of San Diego, but still within the County of San Diego — and opined Coronado does not have potholes, has easier permitting for City projects, enforces its laws against electronic scooters, and offers its residents and businesses “phenomenal” police response times.

(Under its previous name, Independent La Jolla) Incorporate La Jolla has sought cityhood since 1955. Its mission statement reads, in part: “La Jolla is subject to the laws and actions of the City of San Diego, a municipality that has undergone dramatic growth and change in recent years. That growth has increasingly put San Diego’s priorities as a City at direct odds with those of La Jolla as a community. La Jolla’s very shoreline and skylines are controlled by the San Diego City government. Past decisions made by the City relating to critical qualities of life issues — from land use and historical preservation to environmental impact and municipal services — have reflected a consistent disregard for the stated preferences of La Jolla’s 45,000 residents.”

The name was changed to better reflect its mission a month ago, Merryweather said.

What’s next?

Once completed, according to press material, the City of San Diego COO will vet the Initial Fiscal Analysis and then present it to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), a state agency responsible for the formation of cities in California. An additional next step would be fundraising to determine (and map) the boundaries of what would be the City of La Jolla.

San Diego LAFCO Executive Officer Keene Simonds told the Light there is a State process when a community wants to become its own city, and that the City of San Diego has its own process on top of that.

“Engaging a consultant to prepare the Initial Fiscal Analysis is significant because under San Diego’s policy, we require that the petitioning group prepare a draft comprehensive Fiscal Analysis as part of any applicant submittal,” he said. “It indicates whether this effort is a good use of resources.”

That analysis, Simonds said, would determine whether La Jolla has enough financial resources to support itself and its loss would not have a negative impact on the City of San Diego.

“LAFCO can only approve an incorporation if the community has enough revenue to meet expenses over the next three years at a minimum,” he said. “The draft Fiscal Analysis also has to show and contemplate the (financial) impact on the City of San Diego ... San Diego LAFCO would not approve an incorporation if it has a negative impact on the City of San Diego.”

Merryweather added, should the City of San Diego face a minor financial loss, La Jolla would have to pay the difference. “If we get a big robust group of people to donate, we might be able to pay the City for seven years in advance,” she said. “We might get some huge windfall.”

Should the departure be considered fiscally doable, two votes would then need to take place: one from the registered voters of La Jolla, and a second from the registered voters of greater San Diego.

And this step has stopped other secession efforts in recent years.

“There has not been a successful incorporation in California since the mid-2000s, there have been attempts, but none successful,” Simonds said.

Back in 2002, the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County attempted to become its own city. While the vote among those who live within the boundary of the San Fernando Valley to leave was affirmative, the vote from the voters of Los Angeles was not.

“It’s reasonable if the numbers make sense that the community of La Jolla might vote in favor, but perhaps the bigger challenge is making a compelling argument for the City of San Diego to not object,” Simonds said.

But, he added: “The recognition that the La Jolla community has generated donations and funds to put into preparing the draft Fiscal Analysis is a substantive threshold. They are showing they have the resources to get this process going. The availability of resources is the biggest issue that underlies any incorporation. There are still many steps that need to occur, but it is a substantive step.”

Other incorporation issues

Lemon Grove, one San Diego city that incorporated in 1977, is now facing declining revenues while facing rising pension and public safety costs, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The city of 27,000 is expecting a budget shortfall of $2.4 million over the next three years, and is considering disincorporation.

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