Before a highly interested audience of community leaders and merchants at the Rec Center, Jan. 16, La Jolla Community Foundation chair Phyllis Pfeiffer and architect Mark Steele presented the first phase of a proposed project to create a new public plaza at “The Dip,” located at the north end of Girard Avenue at Prospect Street. The presentation, titled “La Jolla Village Streetscape Plan,” included a myriad of fresh ways these overdue changes could enhance the community.
Board members from La Jolla’s Community Planning Association, Merchants Association, Historical Society and Town Council were invited to attend. The audience also included La Jolla Community Foundation (LJCF) board members Julie Dubick, George Hauer and Jack McGrory. The philanthropic organization is affiliated with the San Diego Foundation (SDF).
Prior to unveiling the plan, Pfeiffer shared a brief history of LJCF’s beginnings 10 years ago. (Pfeiffer is also president and general manager of La Jolla Light.) She said founders realized that while there were numerous successful community groups in town, none were working on raising funds for overall infrastructure projects to fix up La Jolla.
After LJCF leaders discovered that work in the public right-of-way can only be done by a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD, such as Enhance La Jolla), Business Improvement District (BID, such as La Jolla Village Merchants Association), or Property-based Business Improvement District (PBID, such as San Diego Downtown Partnership), an initiative began five years ago to form a MAD within The Village. Enhance La Jolla, the nonprofit managing the MAD, began work in October 2019. Funds raised by LJCF for the La Jolla Village Streetscape Plan can be efficiently transferred to Enhance La Jolla while maintaining tax deductible distinction since both entities are 501(c)3 organizations.
Pfeiffer further noted that LJCF’s first project was the Murals of La Jolla: “If we couldn’t do work in the actual public right-of-way, plant trees and fix things up, at least we could start doing art projects that would make people take more pride in the community.” As the successful project outgrew LJCF’s ability to maintain it, Murals of La Jolla was gifted to the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library. Art curator Lynda Forsha currently manages the project, continuing LJCF’s vision to enhance the civic character by commissioning public art projects on private property throughout La Jolla. (See related story “New mural goes up on Girard Avenue.”)
M. W. Steele Group created the La Jolla Village Streetscape Plan after receiving a grant of $75,000 from the LJCF. Mark Steele, president, assembled a design team to collaborate and generate ideas, which included architects Jennifer Luce, Jim Alcorn and Paul Buss, and landscape architects Todd Fry and Jennifer Phelps. Steele explained that the group’s priorities included creating community gathering spaces, finding ways to energize streets to bring people to The Village, expanding the pedestrian realm with improved crosswalks, state-of-the-art curb extension and increased shade areas.
The group’s focus areas include The Dip, Girard Avenue and Wall Street, a mid-block crossing on Girard, and Girard and Silverado Street. Considered the plan’s catalyst, The Dip will be transformed into a plaza as a place to meet, gather and enjoy views of La Jolla Cove. Being a flexible space with ample seating, Steele said he envisions events and music there, adding “it will probably become one of the most prominent and identifying elements in the community.” The east-bound lane of Prospect Street between Girard and Herschel avenues will be removed with the lower west-bound lane of Prospect becoming a two-way street. Nearby parking spaces will be replaced and not lost.
The recommended design at Girard and Wall could act as a plaza area to use for special events for pedestrians only, Steele continued. It features upgraded light fixtures to increase a sense of safety, as well as a lively atmosphere, three additional curb extensions and the removal of two parking spaces. Steele noted that this area provides an “opportunity for artwork to be contained within planters, retaining walls and even the paving.”
Farther along on Girard Avenue, a crosswalk in the 7800 block will facilitate mid-block crossing and foster a mini-plaza with space to sit and experience the street happenings.
When asked about potential obstacles, Pfeiffer responded that initial discussions with City engineers included changing parking spaces from parallel to diagonal. Steele added there will be issues with utilities, water quality and storm drainage.
Alcorn opined: “We have met with the City and have a letter of confirmation that we do not need a coastal permit for this project. We just need the agreement of the surrounding property owners in The Dip area. Once we have their agreement, which we did actually get 10 years ago, and if they all agree, all we need is a right-of-way permit, which is like getting a tree planted in front of your building.”
Pfeiffer reported that a committee comprised of Steele, Ed Witt and Andy Nelson of Enhance La Jolla, and San Diego Foundation president/CEO Mark Stuart will soon meet with Mayor Kevin Faulconer to review the Streetscape Plan. Although no streets will be renamed as part of the project, acknowledging donors is important, and the group wants to obtain confirmation that the City will guarantee use of recognition plaques.
When asked about the cost of the La Jolla Village Streetscape Plan, Pfeiffer said the plan’s overall pricetag is $50 million. The estimated budget for Phase 1, presented at this meeting, is $10 million. She recognized and thanked Una Davis for her $1 million donation, and shared that further fundraising efforts are underway. “There’s a lot of people who are very excited about this project and really want to get involved and want to help,” she told those gathered.
District City Council member Barbara Bry provided a statement of support. “I applaud the generosity and the creative partnership of the La Jolla Foundation and the La Jolla MAD to raise $50 million to improve the streetscape in the La Jolla Village. I share their vision of making The Village a gathering place that the entire community will appreciate and utilize for generations to come.”
A question was raised about closing Girard Avenue to vehicles and making it for pedestrians only. Steele explained that a pedestrian-only street closure had been discussed, but would require further review because such streets are typically not very successful. The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica is one example that works for pedestrians and events.
LJVMA president Brett Murphy said the merchants are ready “to activate The Village behind the plan ... what we would do with that plaza area is put entertainment out there, so there is a music or art element to enhance The Village experience, more than just the look of it.”
Concern was expressed over how businesses on Girard and Prospect will be affected during the construction; could customers get to the restaurants and shops? LJCPA trustee Mike Costello, a former member of the Bird Rock Traffic Calming Task Force, suggested phasing construction to avoid major disruptions. “One of the things, if we had to do it again or differently, would have been more construction phasing because it really did hurt a lot of the businesses in Bird Rock, although the economic and business activity afterward greatly improved and was very worth it, giving the area a sense pride and cohesiveness.”
Joe LaCava, Enhance La Jolla secretary and past construction liaison for the Bird Rock Traffic Calming Project, added that the key to working through problems was having an intermediary between merchants, residents, contractor and the City inspector.
Pfeiffer reminded the group that The Village’s competition is Westfield UTC, whose recent renovations include expanded seating, shaded areas and festive music. The Streetscape Plan provides similar enhancements to attract and incentivize visitors to stroll through The Village. One beautification example will be metal benches sporting the sea horse and shell motif.
LJCPA trustee Greg Jackson asked where the likely opposition to this plan could come from. Pfeiffer responded that there will be a process to gather public opinion, where community input is welcomed.
LaCava noted that the La Jolla Village Streetscape Plan already has broad-based support from community leaders who agree there is a Village deterioration problem to be solved. “I am very excited and I hope you are all excited, and you will show up at the next meeting and the next meeting, and keep voicing your support,” he said.
Steve Hadley, director of Community Outreach for City Council member Barbara Bry, stated that his role will include keeping track of the different commitments from various City departments. This will be particularly important given that there will be a new mayor and council member in District 1 next year.
It is not known when the project would begin. Pfeiffer said the San Diego Foundation will provide guidance on the process while funds are raised.
“We need to do this right, particularly when dealing with tax-deductible contributions,” she emphasized. “A project manager will probably be hired to oversee the project and, along with the San Diego Foundation, be able to advise how much will be needed in hand before work with the City can begin.”
A public open house with the plans available for review is being planned for early March.
To become a member of the La Jolla Community Foundation or to make a contribution to the capital campaign, contact Trudy Armstrong at (619) 235-2300 or visit lajollacommunityfoundation.org
Meet the Plan
• A mid-March meeting is being planned at the Rec Center with a Q&A and storyboards from the folks behind the La Jolla Village Streetscape plan. The Light will publish details as the event nears. For more details, visit lajollacommunityfoundation.org