Development permitters approve vacation of Cuvier Street for Rec Center renovation

The proposed transformation of the La Jolla Recreation Center is shown in a rendering.
The proposed transformation of the La Jolla Recreation Center is shown in a rendering. La Jolla Presbyterian Church is across from the Rec Center on Draper Avenue, with the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego located across from the center on Prospect Street.

After some hefty debate and deliberation, a request to vacate a portion of Cuvier Street from city ownership got the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee’s support during its May 11 meeting.

During the discussion, the committee hashed out parking and traffic impacts and heard how the planned renovation of the La Jolla Recreation Center plays into larger plans for La Jolla’s Cultural Zone and what The Bishop’s School plans to do with the land it would acquire with the street vacation.

The vacation is considered a necessary part of the Rec Center renovation to help expand its offerings.

In a street vacation, the city of San Diego relinquishes its ownership of a public right of way or public service easement and turns it over to the adjacent property owner or owners. The requested vacation also includes a lot line adjustment, splitting the Cuvier real estate widthwise instead of the usual method of drawing a line down the middle of the road.

The Rec Center would then take the frontage along Prospect Street, amounting to 11,106 square feet, according to Recreation Center Visioning Committee member and La Jolla architect Trace Wilson. The south portion, 8,061 square feet, would belong to The Bishop’s School.

New Rec Center amenities in the space would include a trellis, a bocce court, backboard courts and open space.

Jill Peters, vice president of Friends of La Jolla Recreation Center and chairwoman of the Visioning Committee, said the space would be a “family and community fun area with different games that will bring all ages together. We’re trying to think outside the box and pull people into that area of the park with a nice shady area. We’re also adding some trees that will shade the grassy area toward the end of the day.”

When asked if a skate park is being considered as an amenity, Peters said that “based on community response, that’s completely out of the picture and off the table.”

Community member Patrick Ahern said he was “excited by the proposal” and that “this is a wonderful opportunity to improve and enhance our parks in La Jolla, and we need it. … It respects the history of this special place, [La Jolla Rec Center architect] Irving Gill ... and creates places for gathering and having fun.”

La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee members and guests discuss a requested vacation of Cuvier Street on May 11.
La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee members and guests discuss a requested vacation of part of Cuvier Street on May 11.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A sticking point thus far that has prevented some boards from taking a vote has been parking and traffic impact. To account for the 27 spaces lost to the street vacation, the proposal includes restriping Prospect Street to have diagonal parking, which yields more spaces than parallel parking and potentially could slow traffic. Wilson said there would be a net gain of 10 spaces.

Resident and Rec Center user Victor Krebs spoke about parking and traffic concerns at previous meetings. On May 11 he reiterated, “I think there are a lot of positives here … but that little cul de sac [Cuvier] is extremely busy in the morning.” He called it an “unofficial drop-off for Bishop’s.”

He suggested that those who use Cuvier would reroute and use other streets, which could create additional traffic. “I think there needs to be some consideration for the additional traffic impacts and backups,” he said.

DPR trustee and Rec Center Visioning Committee member Diane Kane, saying she wanted to “put the traffic argument to rest,” asked Bishop’s School representatives to speak about current student drop-off arrangements and the use of Cuvier Street.

Bishop’s director of facilities Brian Williams said the school currently has an entrance off La Jolla Boulevard that goes under the athletic field and into an underground parking structure, and a secondary entrance off Draper Avenue that also feeds into the underground structure. Both entrances feed into a traffic loop for drop-offs.

“Part of the issue or problem with the Cuvier drop-off is it is not designed for vehicles to turn around,” Williams said. “People will drop off, stop in the intersection and the kid will dash out of the car to run down Cuvier and cars have to do a three-point if not four-point turn to get out.”

He said the school has not done a formal traffic study or count of how many people use each entrance, but he estimated 75 to 100 students enter the school through the gate nearest Cuvier Street.

Krebs called the proposal a “land grab” in which “Bishop’s is totally scoring” and said it should require “a greater community benefit.”

Bishop’s plans

Plans for what The Bishop’s School would do with its portion of the vacated land have not been finalized, but a new development likely would be a dance studio. Concerns were raised at previous meetings about the visibility of a historic structure — “La Jolla’s first library,” DPR trustee Angeles Leira said — on the Bishop’s campus next to the proposed development.

Williams assured that the library would be visible, though the building is conceptual. When plans are finalized, the school will need to go before the DPR for a review of its permit application.

“When [Williams] comes back to this group for a permit for that building when the time comes, he is well aware the view of that building and the visibility of the library is going to be a hot-button issue,” DPR Chairman Brian Will said.

Conceptual streetscape plan

Beyond the La Jolla Rec Center, Wilson presented plans for an overhaul of La Jolla’s Cultural Zone to include new street trees, roundabouts and an improved pedestrian experience.

“For the past three to four years, the Visioning Committee has been working on a plan for the Rec Center building and grounds, but also a master plan for the surrounding public realm,” he said. “In that, we have created different street tree types and plantings; diagonal parking along Prospect Street edge and La Jolla Boulevard edge; roundabouts to serve as marquees of the Cultural Zone at Ravina Street, La Jolla Boulevard, Silverado [Street] and Silver [Street]/Draper and others. A part of that is traffic calming and an improved pedestrian environment.”

Kane said the Visioning Committee was meeting with the city to discuss funding, and if unsuccessful, would work with Enhance La Jolla, which administers the Maintenance Assessment District for The Village and can raise funds for capital projects.

“These are not just going to be pipe dreams or pretty drawings on paper,” Kane said. “And there does seem to be growing community support.”

The streetscape plan, she said, would go before the DPR and other community groups for approval as it gets closer to implementation.

A motion that findings can be made to support the Cuvier Street vacation passed 5-0, with Will customarily abstaining as chairman and Kane abstaining because she also is on the Visioning Committee.

The findings proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification. ◆