Puesto’s plaza plan heard and continued at traffic board; DPR backs exploring proposed Wall Street closure

Architect Marie Biaggi showed plans related to Puesto's application for a five-year pedestrian plaza on Wall Street.
Architect Marie Biaggi showed plans related to Puesto’s application for a five-year pedestrian plaza.

An ongoing discussion about Puesto La Jolla’s recent application to extend its use of parking spaces on Wall Street for outdoor dining for up to five years was taken up by the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board, which ultimately decided to continue the discussion next month pending further details.

The restaurant’s plan would keep Puesto’s current pedestrian plaza — also called a parklet, or structure built over the parking spaces — “with some modifications pending,” including a ramp to ensure the plaza complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Puesto’s director of construction, Nick Sandvig, said at the April 21 T&T meeting.

According to project details described by the San Diego Development Services Department, the plan involves “a 1,278-square-foot deck that covers nine existing angled parking spaces in the public right of way at 1026 and 1044 Wall St.,” a 0.63-acre site.

The 1026 Wall St. address is Puesto’s; 1044 Wall St. is the site of Marisi Italiano, a restaurant under construction and owned by Puesto.

The plan has received support from the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and been presented to or discussed without action taken by the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee and La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee.

The permit Puesto has applied for is a “placemaking pedestrian plaza.” Placemaking is the “temporary use of public right of way and private property that activates streetscapes by enhancing the pedestrian experience and providing neighborhood-serving activities,” according to a city informational bulletin.

“We’re sort of the crash test dummies on this,” Sandvig said. “It’s a new thing.”

The plaza would be open to the public, according to the details of the permit, but there is “a portion of the code that does allow for businesses within 15 feet of the plaza to operate,” said Marie Biaggi of OBR Architecture, who is listed as the applicant for the permit.

Addressing T&T Chairman Dave Abrams’ calling the loss of nine parking spaces under the parklet a “critical issue,” Sandvig said Puesto has been reaching out to nearby parking vendors to obtain parking passes for its employees.

“That way … we would be pulling employee vehicles off the street,” Sandvig said.

Abrams said another concern is that the permit’s approval “could be the forerunner of many of these things and more parking spaces being lost in The Village.”

“I would really like to see what that employee parking looks like,” T&T member Natalie Aguirre said. Employees parking on the streets “is a concern because they are … taking up parking for our businesses that are retail brick and mortar,” she added.

“Five years is a very long time,” she said.

Puesto La Jolla has applied for a placemaking pedestrian plaza for five years.
Puesto La Jolla’s proposed pedestrian plaza would extend the current use of parking spaces from its Wall Street location to Herschel Avenue for five years.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

T&T member Nancy Warwick agreed, saying “I think a five-year commitment gives a monopoly to one business and might deny other equally deserving businesses an equal opportunity. This conversation about curbside dining and outside dining in La Jolla is very important, but I disagree with this being the approach. … It’s piecemeal to me and it should be more comprehensive.”

She said a parking assessment should occur before the board makes a decision.

“It would be premature for us to come up with an opinion on this,” T&T member Tom Brady agreed. “The city has to move first.”

Abrams asked for a motion to continue the matter to the May meeting, “once we get some response to questions and more elucidation of what specifically is going to happen here,” he said.

The motion was approved unanimously.

Wall Street closure plan

Although the Development Permit Review Committee did not discuss the Puesto proposal during its April 20 meeting — Chairman Brian Will said the applicants need to ask to be on the agenda and had not yet done so — it did support exploring a plan to close Wall Street between Girard and Herschel avenues to vehicle traffic and create a broader pedestrian plaza. The goal is to launch a “test run” of the closure as early as June 15.

The effort is being shepherded by a working group known as Vision La Jolla, made up of architects, engineers, planners and Realtors who are looking at a broader master plan for the future of planning in The Village. They are currently in the research phase of the Wall Street closure idea and have made no formal applications or steps.

“With the Puesto placemaking program … the question is, if it were to be permanent, what else could it be a part of so it’s not just out there sucking up parking spaces but becomes part of something more inviting for the whole village?” DPR trustee and Vision La Jolla member Diane Kane said.

If a test run of the proposed Wall Street closure doesn’t work, “no harm no foul; when the pandemic is over, we go back to the way it was,” she said. “But if it does work, it gives us the chance to move in a new direction for The Village.”

Questions were raised about how alleyways would be affected and how the loss of parking would be mitigated. Others spoke in favor of the proposal and the overall concept of making La Jolla more pedestrian-friendly and less “car-centric.”

“If we made our downtown area more pedestrian-oriented with better sidewalk layout and better connections, a lot more people would walk,” DPR trustee Angeles Leira said. “We need to start thinking about creating that environment.”

Will said “there are communities with less parking than we have but have wide sidewalks and points of interest. I don’t think those people are missing the parking when the trade-off is having some places you don’t have to drive to. I think we need to envision something that is going to make La Jolla a destination.”

A motion to submit a letter in support of the proposal passed so “the CPA [Community Planning Association] can ratify it and be on record with the city.”

The draft reads, in part, that the board supports “moving forward with exploration, research and the development of a concept and plan to transform a portion of Wall Street into a community gathering space. Furthermore, a temporary closure to test the closure concept would be greatly encouraged. While many questions need to be answered, we believe that a project like this would drive visitors to our Village and increase retention while they are here.”

Should the plan be considered a success and the community supports making it permanent, the proposal would go back before the board and there would be a public forum to discuss it, Will said. ◆