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TALK OF THE TOWN COUNCIL: Q&A with La Jolla Town Council president Ann Kerr Bache

Prior to serving as president of La Jolla Town Council, Ann Kerr Bache worked for the U.S. government on technology to detect international nuclear detonations.
(COREY LEVITAN)

Before she moderated arguments over sea-lion poop, La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) president Ann Kerr Bache was the deputy director of nuclear monitoring research for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Department of Defense branch responsible for nuclear-test detection.

During a recent interview over lunch at El Pescador, the Barber Tract resident told the Light that the meetings she presides over now require pretty much the same skillset.

LJTC was chartered in 1950 by the founder of the University of California, Roger Revelle, who was also an active La Jolla resident. It was the only community think-tank until La Jollans, Inc. — which in 1987 changed its name to the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) — was founded by Town Council trustee Karl ZoBell in 1964.

Although it has undergone several procedural and structural changes, LJTC still serves as La Jolla’s primary forum for tackling big-picture issues and controversies.

But here’s Kerr Bache (pronounced Kerr Báish) to explain, in her own words, what exactly LJTC is and does these days.

What does Town Council do?

“Its main function is an impartial community information forum. If you notice, when I conduct political forums, for example, I am extremely neutral and I treat everybody equally bad — as far as candidates are concerned — so that you can go to Town Council and know that we endorse no candidates ever. In fact, once a trustee does choose to endorse a candidate, then they don’t get involved in anything that has to do with reviewing candidates.

Also, Town Council has appointees who are members of LJCPA, La Jolla Traffic & Transportation (T&T), the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee (DPR) and the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee (PDO). I don’t expect this happening, but say a particular group seemed to be prejudicial toward a certain neighborhood or issue. The independence offered by having a appointee whose job is to represent the Town Council community, and not a particular LJCPA committee, gives us that extra freedom.”

How did Town Council evolve from being the only La Jolla community group advising the City to being separate from all other planning groups advising the City?

“Town Council originally incorporated what is now La Jolla Parks & Beaches, the La Jolla Recreation Advisory Group, T&T, DPR, PDO, the La Jolla Shores Association and Bird Rock Community Planning Association — basically every community organization. Over time, the City set up the planning groups across the City. So it was prescribed that Town Council couldn’t be non-profit and had to be separate from Brown Act control. And it makes sense to split these things off. We don’t need to be an umbrella organization. And, for us to be Brown Act, we couldn’t meet or talk in private. My feeling is we’re lucky to have such a great community of volunteers and leaders, and I don’t feel it’s my job to be looking over their shoulders. Can you imagine me having to schedule every time I wanted to have an informal discussion about something?”

How can Town Council still be effective if it doesn’t have a direct channel of communication to the City anymore?

“We don’t report to the City, we don’t report to our City Council member and we sometimes take a position in opposition to City Council. We’re an independent group and we act independently. But one of the things people don’t realize — that I didn’t realize until I became president — is the Town Council still has the responsibility to either approve the consent agenda of LJCPA or pull something off the agenda for further consideration.”

Can’t anyone pull something from the consent agenda, though?

“Only Town Council can, but anyone can appeal to Town Council and say, ‘I’m being unfairly treated’ or ‘It’s a lousy idea to close off the beach.’ The other thing Town Council has to do, too, is for every special-events permit, the applicants have to go to Traffic & Transportation first. They make recommendations and pass them to LJCPA, which approves them. But then, I still have to write, as president of Town Council, that we support this event.”

Do City planners and engineers heed Town Council recommendations?

“I do know that for a fact, because when some of our members were very much opposed to the stanchions (at the foot of Playa del Norte), I wrote a letter putting the City’s head of engineering and streets on notice that this was recommended by LJCPA but still there was tremendous community opposition to it and to please revisit the issue. In that case, there were safety concerns. So they did this six-month experiment and recorded numerous, numerous violations. Then they looked at it again and reverted it back to parking spaces.”

Town Council is the group known for taking on on the most controversial subjects — regardless of whether there’s a project to review in connection with them.

“Exactly. I wasn’t even sworn in yet, in May 2016, and some members of the community were concerned about the number of people going to the hospital with serious infections as a result of the California sea lions, who were polluting the beach and up on Coast Boulevard. So we held a forum on the California sea lions. The audience spilled out of the Rec Center to the sidewalk. It was a huge thing. I invited everyone who had a stake in it — the San Diego Swim Club, the San Diego Dive Club. People came from Palm Springs, from Orange County, and everybody got to have a say. People are not afraid to get up to the microphone at Town Council because they know they’re not going to be shouted down, which happens at a lot of public meetings.”

But your sea lion recommendations were not heeded by the City.

“There was a problem. We highlighted the issue. We told the City what to do. They chose not to take our recommendations and it’s a pending issue as far as our public is concerned.”

What topic would you not address at Town Council and why?

“I’d flip the question the other way. The topics we address are community-wide issues having to do with life in La Jolla. What we’re not set up to do is to hold any kind of technical or scientific forum.”

For instance, the effect of climate change and sea-level rise on La Jolla?

“Yeah. We have leading experts in the world on all that right here. That’s not appropriate for Town Council, which has a dozen or so trustees. We take on things that affect the quality-of-life in our neighborhoods where there’s no other forum, because La Jolla Town Council is the only forum where a community member can just come forward and say, ‘Here’s a problem. How do we fix it?’ ”

What motivates you to preside over the La Jolla Town Council?

“In my career, I had no time to give back or volunteer. And when I found myself with a little bit more time, and because my background is in technology and running meetings, I’m pretty good at it.”

Which is more difficult to moderate — a debate about nuclear proliferation or sea-lion poop?

“Each is different. At DARPA, which I joined in 1979, we tried to detect really small-scale explosions hidden in earthquakes and stuff. For a month a year, two weeks at a time, I’d be a delegate to a group of scientific experts on the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. We would negotiate the technical solution to treaties. DARPA’s mission back then was to think of hard problems and try to find a solution yesterday.

The key is that, in any negotiation, nobody wins 100 percent. The basis of any good deal is you have to give up something and someone else has to give up something. And so people who want to be black and white at both ends of the spectrum, they’re not going to contribute to a solution.

For example, the short-term vacation rental (STVR) issue has evolved. I chair a working group that started looking at different solutions for different neighborhoods. The coastal communities are different than those inland. Mission Beach, in particular, has long-established, well-run, family-operated vacation rentals. People come to Mission Beach to vacation. This group is not against short-term vacation rentals. What we’re against is for them not to adhere to the same rules as any good neighbor.

Instead of having their lights on all night or music after midnight, there are ordinances in La Jolla that would be easy to use to shut down these violators. But La Jolla is considered, short of a shooting or something, a quality-of-life crime-free place. So the response time, given the limited resources of the police, is about 12 hours. Therefore, you have a wild party going at 1 in the morning, well, the police have much worse crimes going on in other areas and you don’t want them to drop everything to get a drunk guy out on the street.”

If La Jolla became its own City, police response time would probably improve — as well as many other things. You are a past president of Independent La Jolla. Why hasn’t Town Council taken on secession during your tenure as president?

“It’s outside our interest for Town Council to spearhead such an organization, but it is completely within our purview and interest to hold a community forum on what an independent city would mean. We set up a tentative forum but, recently, I was told there’s been some reorganization going on. Many years ago — I think I quit in 2007 — I raised a little bit of money. We got the map drawn and approved with the Local Agency Formation Commission, and then it came down to a checkbook problem, which is we had to raise enough signatures, which back then was $2 a signature.”

Do you think secession is still feasible?

“I haven’t got an opinion one way or the other because I haven’t looked at it since 2007. I understand the rules have changed. If a city departs, it has to pay alimony. When I was looking at it, we would have had to have paid $9 million in alimony (to the City of San Diego) for 10 years. But that was a piece of cake because we were collecting so much more in property and business taxes. It would have been a net gain for San Diego to let go of us. But fundamentally, it comes down to the fact that a very careful study needs to be done.”

How does Town Council recruit new members?

“A lot of people come and see what we do and become interested in being associated with a nonpartisan, apolitical, non-bureaucratic organization. And we’re a comfortable size. In the past, Town Council was extremely large and had an executive director and offices on Herschel Avenue and then Silverado Street. When I became president, there was no office because we had no funds to pay for one. So rather than raise money for an office, we created a website (lajollatowncouncil.org) to be the mechanism for keeping in touch.”

Does it disappoint you that most of your board members are senior citizens?

“I’d like to have younger people involved. I’d like to put the call out in this story to people who are interested, who have time and talent and are willing to put in more than just showing up at a meeting. Our by-laws require about four hours a month. That means you either take on a meeting or a project. We’re looking for help with social media. Our membership costs only $35 a year. And you don’t have to live in La Jolla to sit on the board. You can also work in La Jolla. We’ve already started taking nominations. Come to the March 12 meeting and get an idea of what Town Council does.”

How much longer do you want to continue as Town Council president?

“A good leader leaves a good team, and we’re in good shape that way. I’ll leave it at that.”

— La Jolla Town Council next meets 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, 2020 at the La Jolla Rec reation Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollatowncouncil.org