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‘Appallingly bad’: La Jolla Innovation Center gets a harsh critique at community planners’ meeting

A rendering of the UCSD Innovation Center, proposed for the intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla.
A rendering of UC San Diego’s proposed La Jolla Innovation Center at the intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla Drive. Public comments on the project’s draft environmental impact report are being accepted through Monday, March 22.
(Courtesy)

UC San Diego’s planned La Jolla Innovation Center got a chilly reception from members of the La Jolla Community Planning Association when plans were presented during the group’s March 4 meeting. Some called the design “butt ugly” and others called the proposed size “appallingly bad.”

The Innovation Center is a proposed seven-story building at the intersection of Villa La Jolla Drive and La Jolla Village Drive at the former site of Rock Bottom Brewery. It would include five levels of UCSD Health Sciences and Extension uses, two levels of above-grade parking and two levels of subterranean parking. It is planned to have about 110,000 square feet of office and educational space, a ground-floor cafe accessible to the public and approximately 275 parking spaces.

Construction would begin in mid-2021, with completion in 2023.

Jeff Graham, executive director of real estate at UCSD, said current facilities that house those programs are considered “seismically non-compliant” and that it would be cost-prohibitive to bring them into compliance.

“The objectives [of this building] are to take advantage of a site that is underutilized with a now-closed restaurant, keep our researchers in the area they need to be to conduct important research, keep UCSD Extension with a new modern home for their classes and easy access to the VA Medical Center and the campus for administration,” he said.

A rendering of the site of the planned La Jolla Innovation Center shows it before and after the building's construction.
A rendering of the site of the planned La Jolla Innovation Center shows it before and after the building’s construction, as seen from La Jolla Village Drive.
(Courtesy)

LJCPA trustee John Shannon said it’s a “shame” that the programs’ proposed new home is not on the campus itself.

Graham responded that buildings and land on campus west of Interstate 5 (within LJCPA’s jurisdiction) that could house the programs are reserved for “student housing projects, new lab building for biology and School of Medicine students and other needs that have already been determined.”

During an online public hearing Feb. 25 to discuss the project’s draft environmental impact report, several questions arose about traffic. Ingress and egress for the building would be through two driveways, one from Villa La Jolla and another from the Villa Norte cul-de-sac. Both exist today.

Planners of UC San Diego’s proposed La Jolla Innovation Center presented the project’s draft environmental impact report during an online public hearing Feb. 25, with several comments expressing concern about potential effects on neighborhood aesthetics and traffic congestion.

At the LJCPA meeting, trustee Dan Courtney called the area “one of the worst traffic intersections in La Jolla, especially in the afternoon. I don’t see how that can kind traffic [increase] can be mitigated.”

Alyssa Helper, senior community planner with UCSD, said the California Environmental Quality Act “no longer requires an analysis of congestion; traffic was evaluated in accordance with current CEQA guidelines. … There is no mitigation required for traffic.”

However, as part of the project the university would implement a $6 million “smart signals” program along La Jolla Village Drive from Interstate 805 in the east to Torrey Pines Road to “create much better traffic circulation all along La Jolla Village Drive,” Graham said.

The board did not vote on the project. But several trustees and members of the public criticized the building’s stark appearance at approximately 100 feet tall.

LJCPA trustee Helen Boyden said it is a “good location” for what UCSD would like to construct, “but as a nearby resident of the area, I think the design of the building does not fit with the neighborhood.”

The university plans to acquire and redevelop one acre of the seven-acre site. When asked in January how the project would fit in the coastal zone, where the height limit is 30 feet, UCSD community liaison Anu Delouri said, “Once under the university’s property … it will be subject to UC land management policies, including those relating to building heights, setbacks and design.”

La Jolla Shores resident Myrna Naegle said UCSD is “encroaching in and destroying” La Jolla, specifically La Jolla Shores, with projects that “increase traffic” and “destroy our beautiful views.”

“When are you going to stop?” she said.

Trustee Nancy Manno said UCSD has “repeatedly not been a good neighbor. … A 100-foot building in that location is appallingly bad.”

She added that her comments were “a moot point, because you are going to build your building.”

LJCPA President Diane Kane called the aesthetics “butt ugly” and said the architects could do better for “such a prominent location.”

To learn more about the plans or to comment on the draft EIR through Monday, March 22, go to blink.ucsd.edu/facilities/real-estate/ljic.html.