2021 Look Ahead: La Jolla leaders offer hopes and plans for the new year

Road concept illustration - 2021

The year 2020 brought more questions than most of us were prepared for: When can concerts resume? Did my favorite restaurant close? Should I wear a mask? The list goes on and on.

We asked the leaders of La Jolla’s civic and cultural institutions two more questions, this time about the new year, 2021. Many of them agree that weathering the COVID-19 storm is paramount, along with supporting local businesses, children, senior citizens and arts and culture organizations.

Here’s what they had to say:

What is the biggest issue facing La Jolla in 2021?

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava

San Diego City Councilman and La Jolla resident Joe LaCava: The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of normal life and caused tens of thousands of small businesses and working families to lose income and in worse cases, lose the life of loved ones. The city of San Diego has not been spared; we are facing an unprecedented $124 million budget shortfall in the upcoming year. As such, the biggest issue facing La Jolla, and all our communities, is protecting neighborhood services from budgetary cuts.

As your council member [for District 1], I am championing a budget that preserves core services like sidewalk and road repair, tree trimming, pothole repair, and fire and rescue and lifeguard services. I am also advocating to maintain services that promote enjoyment and fitness such as park and recreation activities and library hours and programming.

Enhance La Jolla President Ed Witt: Helping merchants and landlords to achieve their goals, and regaining the lost retailers and filling in vacant stores.

La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane

La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane: Code enforcement, infrastructure and open lines of communication with City Hall. We have asked the city to provide more resources for code enforcement personnel to control construction, short-term vacation rentals, beach fires, coastal view corridor preservation, parking and other civil violations. Regarding infrastructure, we need new funding sources to deal with a shocking backlog of deteriorated infrastructure. And we need to have open communication with the new City Council District 1 representative and the mayor’s office to explore additional private funding for infrastructure and other La Jolla capital project needs.

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson: Maintain and enhance the quality of our Shores community for all who live and work here, plus the over 4 million who visit here annually.

La Jolla Town Council President Ann Kerr Bache: The biggest issue is to find ways to restore La Jolla to a jewel of a destination to make it inviting to visitors and residents alike. The economic and social vitality of our community has been severely impacted by COVID-19. Restaurants are struggling with shifting operational constraints. Significant resources were required to obtain permits for new outdoor dining and for merchants to adhere to limits on indoor access. But even before COVID, La Jolla was experiencing loss of storefront businesses and struggling to compete with downtown [San Diego] and other locations.

I am often asked why La Jolla isn’t more like Del Mar and Coronado, which are similar destinations. The reality is that they are independent and can utilize their revenues directly for the benefit of residents and businesses. La Jolla contributes significantly to the coffers of San Diego, but it does not get back needed services and resources.

La Jolla Cluster Association co-chairs Neha Bahadur and Nona Richard: The biggest issue facing La Jolla in 2021 is the educational, economic and psychological toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. The La Jolla Cluster [which includes the five local public schools in the San Diego Unified School District] has continued to meet regularly throughout 2020 with our school board trustee, area superintendent and district leaders to stay abreast of the district’s COVID response plan and how those plans impact our local schools and families. We will continue to provide support to our teachers, students and families, serve as a forum to share and disseminate relevant information, and share thoughts and concerns from our stakeholders to the district.

Signs at the La Jolla Recreation Center indicate guidelines for use.

La Jolla Community Recreation Group Chairwoman Mary Coakley Munk: The biggest short-term issue during COVID-19 [is] to provide cross-generational activities, including use of the playgrounds, basketball, bocce and pickleball, that can all be participated in with proper social distancing.

La Jolla Community Center Executive Director Nancy Walters: Isolated seniors and the lack of training/education in technology. One of the most crucial problems during the pandemic is the lack of support for one of the most vulnerable populations: our seniors. Seniors are the fastest-growing population … yet senior programs are the least funded in the nation. As a community-based center focusing on senior programs and services, it is our responsibility to continue to address and solve this serious problem in our community. We need more support from the county, foundations and individuals to allow us to continue providing resources for seniors in need.

The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is home to the La Jolla Music Society.
The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is home to the La Jolla Music Society, which hopes to resume in-person events in 2021.

La Jolla Music Society President and Chief Executive Todd Schultz: Like all businesses right now, La Jolla Music Society will need to grapple with the issue of decreased income and the difficulty of staying connected with our patron base. Over the past nine months, LJMS has offered live online programming, but without in-person public concerts, ticket revenue has decreased dramatically and we haven’t been able to see our loyal attendees.

Our No. 1 focus will be to prepare for a return to normal business — whatever that might look like — and to do it as quickly as possible. During the pandemic, the staff and board of LJMS have shown their ability to be creative and to turn on a dime, and we’ll certainly need more of that spirit going forward as we adapt to changing and, with some luck, improving conditions.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Director and Chief Executive Kathryn Kanjo: We must support La Jolla businesses, especially our neighborhood restaurants that are striving to remain open while protecting public and staff health. We’ve already seen the loss of Sicilia Bella and Whisknladle, for example. We hope this trend doesn’t continue in 2021 and that restaurants can get relief from a broader level. In the meantime, we should patronize our local eateries by ordering curbside pickup.

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library Executive Director Erika Torri
Athenaeum Music & Arts Library Executive Director Erika Torri

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library Executive Director Erika Torri: I think the biggest issue is to get all businesses, restaurants and other operations back to normal so we are not losing our atmosphere of The Village. We should be able to achieve it with the just-signed coronavirus relief package and after that with all of us supporting our local stores and activities.

Youth services librarian Dana Sanchez stands at the contactless pickup table at the La Jolla/Riford Library in mid-2020.

La Jolla/Riford Library branch manager Bill Mallory: The biggest issue for La Jolla is the same issue that affects the rest of the country. Should businesses be opened so the economy can move forward and give people the freedom to safely distance themselves or should shops be shuttered as a way to staunch the recent uptick in infection rates? While most of us cannot change the larger problems that prompted these policies, we can do what is in our power to do. For the La Jolla/Riford Library, it is in our power to remain open and continue to serve the community of La Jolla and the surrounding San Diego area. So that’s what we’re going to do.

Bird Rock Community Council President John Newsam: We will begin 2021 in a cloud, in perhaps the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as distribution of two safe and effective vaccines has commenced. I fully expect that the first half of 2021 will be challenging for those of us in business or dependent on business vibrancy. I hope that we can emerge stronger, but to avoid a long, drawn-out struggle, it will be necessary for vaccination levels to be high. As with our fellow communities nationwide, we can all play our individual parts in continuing to act in the interests of our neighbors by taking sensible infection-prevention measures and encouraging vaccination.

La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox

La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox: As we begin 2021 with dramatically increased infection rates and the distribution of vaccine in the early stages, we see an uneven but progressive recovery beginning during the first half of the year. The biggest issue is reaching the recovery tipping point, accompanied by renewed consumer confidence and a willingness to engage in the community.

This includes local economic recovery with full retail reopening as well as the re-establishment of public gatherings and events with members of the public safely and confidently participating. The best way to address this issue is for everyone to follow public health guidelines: wear a face mask, social distance, stay close to home, get a vaccine shot when available.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Ann Dynes: Without any federal bailout, the city’s budget for services, even fire and safety, let alone parks and beaches, will probably be strained. We expect that maintenance of everything in the city, plus enforcement of its laws and regulations, will be relatively sparse in La Jolla, where, fortunately, high-priority problems happen infrequently. We hope that La Jollans will do what they can to keep our community clean and safe. La Jolla Parks & Beaches will apply resources to help as needed. We all need to pull together through this challenging period.

La Jolla Village Merchants Association Executive Director Jodi Rudick and board President Brett Murphy: Things have been so difficult for so many personally and professionally. However, the entrepreneurial spirit shines bright in La Jolla! We have seen examples of resiliency, tenacity, innovation and imagination on every street in The Village.

Dining options along Girard Avenue during the COVID-19 pandemic have included outdoor corrals.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The biggest opportunity presented by COVID has been here all along: the great outdoors. During COVID-19, the outdoors have proven to be the safest place to dine, shop and even work out. I think La Jolla businesses, customers and property owners will embrace outdoor dining, shopping and living long after they “have to.” As the city loosened rules and regulations and eliminated permit fees, savvy businesses took advantage and expanded onto sidewalks, streets, patios and parking lots. Many customers came to appreciate the experience, and La Jolla’s perfect weather is an added value.

What are your specific organization’s three primary goals for 2021, and what is the plan for achieving them?

City Councilman Joe LaCava:

  • Regarding COVID-19, we must take care of our small businesses and protect our core services to persevere as a community. I will work to redefine how we live, work and play in our city, beginning with District 1. We can be the model for the nation in embracing our new reality. I will also work with city leaders and advocates in scouring the budget for savings, securing state and federal relief, and ensuring our budget is equitable and our neighborhoods do not bear the budgetary burden.
  • My second goal is to swiftly implement Measure B [an initiative to create a new Commission on Police Practices]. The voters overwhelmingly supported Measure B and their vote must be honored.
  • Third, as a member of the council’s Environment Committee, my goal is to preserve, protect and improve our environment. Our city’s health and economic vitality depends on it.

Enhance La Jolla President Ed Witt: Enhance La Jolla’s goals are to work with the community to continue to build on what we’ve accomplished in 2020. We’re already working with vendors to improve our methods of keeping sidewalks cleaner. We will have some new processes in place to accomplish that starting in January. We’ll continue to do the additional maintenance while working on special projects, which will require paying close attention to our budgets.

Overall, we’re excited to continue what we started and we ask the community to help us help them by going to We have an enhanced website, with the homepage making it easy to report to us any issues.

La Jolla Community Planning Association President Diane Kane: LJCPA has three ad hoc committees currently developing updates to various portions of the land development code. Mayoral support for city staff time to address these local issues is critical.

The La Jolla Shores Association would like to plant and replace trees as needed in Kellogg Park.

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson:

  • Support the local small-business community: Shores outdoor dining program continued; new branding for The Shores; marketing campaign for business district.
  • Healthy environmental conditions: Mitigate water runoff from the north comfort station [at Kellogg Park]; eliminate wood fires at the beach and Kellogg Park; support research into air quality with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and others.
  • Keep The Shores safe: Enforce Kellogg Park hours and the locking of the parking lot; joint actions with lifeguards, San Diego police and fire departments and Department of Parks & Recreation.
  • Plant trees in Kellogg Park.

La Jolla Town Council President Ann Kerr Bache:

  • Increase the value of LJTC as an impartial information forum for the benefit of the community.
  • Continue to expand our recruitment of strong trustee candidates. We recruited several outstanding trustees and are currently encouraging individuals to consider becoming candidates for trustee elections to be held in late January. Applications are on our website,
  • Increase awareness of the LJTC and add to our database of interested parties. I refer the readers to our website. Readers are invited to sign up for our newsletters and e-blasts that provide information on upcoming meetings and events. Of particular note in this election year [2020] was our mayoral candidate forum, which we held for all eight candidates in March prior to the primary. A second forum was held for city attorney candidates.
Bird Rock Elementary is among the La Jolla Cluster of schools in the San Diego Unified School District.
Bird Rock Elementary is among the La Jolla Cluster of schools in the San Diego Unified School District.

La Jolla Cluster Association co-chairs Neha Bahadur and Nona Richard:

  • Address the social-emotional needs of students via the work of the cluster’s Social Emotional Learning Committee that includes sharing best practices, adapting current programming to a virtual format and exploring new methods of virtually screening and identifying students at need.
  • Work to ensure equity for all students by inviting students at greatest need to participate in the Phase 1 reopening process, continue ongoing assessments of all students to monitor progress and possible learning loss, provide support for the Special Education Parent Group and continue participation in equity and anti-racist programming, including No Place for Hate, LJHS [La Jolla High School] Black Student Union, Muirlands Gender Sexuality Alliance and For You Squad/Allied Action.
  • Ensure continuity of our Gifted and Talented Education (GATE)/Seminar program via the cluster’s GATE Committee, in collaboration with the GATE District Advisory Committee and other district leaders. We are exploring the implications of GATE testing not occurring or being delayed, looking at alternate assessments that may be used to determine GATE/Seminar status and ensuring parents, teachers and school administrators have a voice in this process.

La Jolla Community Recreation Group Chairwoman Mary Coakley Munk:

  • Securing the vacation of Cuvier Street [adjacent to the La Jolla Recreation Center] for an expanded playground area. The application has been submitted to the city of San Diego Development Services Department for approval; the process requires City Council approval.
  • Development of a fundraising and community outreach plan for the renovation of the [Rec Center] playground and building, bearing in mind the historical significance of both.
  • Development of a detailed design for the playground and building.
La Jolla Community Center Executive Director Nancy Walters

La Jolla Community Center Executive Director Nancy Walters:

  • Train and educate seniors on technology and ways they can communicate with family and friends from the safety of their own homes. Starting in mid-January, we are offering “how-to” classes geared for seniors learning to use iPhones and iPads. For seniors, this can mean learning to use Skype to see family from across the country or logging into a Zoom class to see friends.
  • Expand our reach to seniors in need of resources. We are expanding our outreach efforts to stay in touch with seniors via friendship calls, letters, emails and social media. We have and will continue to connect many seniors with resources such as meal/grocery deliveries, transportation and referrals to various services.
  • Provide quality virtual programs to keep seniors engaged and learning new skills. Since the pandemic, we have provided over 250 free virtual classes, 86 programs/series and over 35 events and concerts. Our goal is to continue to engage seniors with new and interesting programs and events.

La Jolla Music Society President and Chief Executive Todd Schultz:

  • Sustaining a connection with our friends and supporters by providing constant and clear updates on where we stand with public performances, offering online and socially distanced programming and finding new and creative ways to achieve our artistic mission. And, of course, by offering in-person concerts as soon as safely possible.
  • Launching SummerFest. The timing of [the] vaccine seems to work well with the opportunity for LJMS to resume its public concerts with our annual summer chamber music festival. For many, SummerFest is the annual highlight of LJMS programming, as the festival features world-renowned artists who come to San Diego to perform intimate concerts at The Conrad in downtown La Jolla. Resuming SummerFest this August will be an important turning point as we shift from largely socially distanced and online programming to public, in-person concerts.
  • Getting back into schools with music and arts education. LJMS has a long tradition of providing supplemental programming for schools and musical education for young people, and during the pandemic, our staff pivoted quickly to take advantage of online technology to continue this work remotely. As those programs continue, we will also be looking to shift our focus back to onsite, in-person teaching, training and performing for young people throughout the region.
A rendering depicts the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s campus expansion in La Jolla.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Director and Chief Executive Kathryn Kanjo:

  • The new year will have MCASD completing its massive construction effort and preparing for the opening of our expanded [La Jolla] campus. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we are making steady progress — the infrastructure is in place and walls are going up. By [late 2021], artworks will begin to fill the beautiful new galleries.
  • We will further cultivate our immediate community in La Jolla. We plan to do a lot of listening in the top half of 2021 —we want to hear from the La Jolla community about how we can continue to grow with them.
  • We will continue to fortify our role as an artistic anchor for the region — 2021 marks our 80th year in The Village. With our expanded campus, we can more fully serve La Jolla for decades to come. When we reopen, La Jollans will be a short stroll away from taking in an Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Robert Irwin and other highlights of our lauded collection. It’s a privilege to be part of La Jolla’s cultural riches — from the Playhouse and La Jolla Music Society to the Athenaeum and Wisteria Cottage.

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library Executive Director Erika Torri:

  • The Athenaeum has suffered and has not been able to present programs, fundraisers or social activities to our membership, which are all very important to them. We hope to be able to do that again in great measure to assure everybody that we are still the same institution.
  • We also lost a lot of our income and hope to be able to get back to the previous income level by doing all the programs we were able to do before, and more.
  • We have learned about online activities and have done all our programs like classes, lectures and jazz and chamber concerts online. We also conducted meetings or talks with a larger group of people by Zoom. Both activities were new to many of our staff, who had to learn it. It went well, actually — some of our customers preferred the online approach over the in-person presentations. We have learned that it is important to do our presentations in both formats to gather a larger audience and attract new people. Once we can use the in-person approach again, we have the choice to do both. It will be a new beginning.

La Jolla/Riford Library branch manager Bill Mallory: I hope in the new year we can get back on track, back to doing what we do best. At the La Jolla/Riford Library, we support the community by:

  • Providing consistency: Our reopening practices were always at the safest tier, so we didn’t have to change anything when the state upgraded its COVID response.
  • Providing safety: maintaining a clean environment with regular sanitization procedures throughout the day in accordance with San Diego public health guidelines.
  • Providing service: making the full resources of the San Diego Library system available to our patrons through our helpful staff.
Bird Rock's main thoroughfare, La Jolla Boulevard.

Bird Rock Community Council President John Newsam:

  • Efficient execution of our ongoing responsibilities: As with any community group, we intend to continue to execute efficiently against our core responsibilities, namely managing the Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District, running monthly board and community meetings, producing and distributing the Bird Rock Newsletter, supporting Bird Rock working groups, engaging with other community groups and representatives, organizing local events (COVID-19-permitting) and responding to community requests.
  • Resurgence of Bird Rock businesses: It can be hard for local businesses to thrive even at the best of times. Bird Rock has marquee businesses with loyal and devoted clienteles. But we also have a number of store vacancies. The constraints necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic have put huge pressure on all of our merchants. I hope that 2021 will be a much better year. With the Bird Rock merchants group we will continue to promote our merchants and do what we can to help businesses recover.
  • Healing and community engagement: I hope that we can swiftly realize a high level of community immunization. As the various lockdown stresses are eased, we can focus on working together to address issues, on cooperating to improve our environment, on helping and supporting our neighbors. Alongside our beautification and Neighborhood Watch efforts, Bird Rock working groups are striving to improve our coastal overlooks and view corridors to envision how Bird Rock might develop. There are always opportunities for volunteers to make a difference.

La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Heath Fox: We look toward a gradual return to in-person programs, modified appropriately as the pandemic recovery progresses, with these objectives:

  • Stabilize our exhibition schedule. We look to resume normalized gallery operations, including associated event and educational programs, as vaccine distribution moderates closure restrictions.
  • Restart community events. With the benefit of lessons learned in 2020, we are redesigning and modifying our spring events, the La Jolla Concours d’Elégance and the Secret Garden Tour, for recovery conditions. Announcements about both events will be forthcoming in the new year.
  • Restart public programming. We are intending a resumption of youth programs in the summer, including the Young Architects program in July, utilizing an outdoor classroom plan. By the late summer and into the fall, we also look to restart adult learning programs, including favorites like Silent Films on the Lawn and the Ellen Browning Scripps Luncheon.
La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Ann Dynes

La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Ann Dynes:

  • Projects: La Jolla Parks & Beaches will continue to work with the city to address infrastructure and safety enhancements in our area of responsibility. This will include repairing beach access stairways, advocating for asphalt replacement and storm drain erosion at oceanfront locations, and paying careful attention to the course of current construction at Scripps Park. We recently announced support for a city ban on wood and charcoal fires at neighborhood beaches, which we will follow through City Hall.
  • Collaboration: We will partner with other local community groups, such as the La Jolla Community Planning Association, Bird Rock Community Council, La Jolla Shores Association, La Jolla [Village] Merchants Association, La Jolla Town Council and Enhance La Jolla, tackling common problems for the benefit of La Jolla.
  • Community: As importantly, La Jolla Parks & Beaches is strengthening its commitment to work with the community, engaging in constructive discussion and listening to different points of view about our parks and beaches as well as the governance structure supporting our mission. We want to spread the word that anyone who desires to participate and be a parks volunteer or a changemaker is welcome to join our meetings and, vacancies occurring, our board!

La Jolla Village Merchants Association Executive Director Jodi Rudick and board President Brett Murphy: As have many La Jolla organizations, LJVMA has focused on the way that people get to and move through The Village. The idea of parking once, staying longer and visiting multiple attractions and merchants is an ongoing goal. Walkability is key, as people prefer fresh air and convenience.

Commercial real estate, including retail and professional spaces, will have to adjust to a new normal that began long before, but was accelerated by, COVID-19. Flexibility and creativity will be keys to success as developers and property owners look to attract and retain tenants. Remote working and online shopping are here to stay. Fortunately, La Jolla will always be a magnet for tourists from near and far. ◆