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UC regents approve disputed design for seven-story La Jolla Innovation Center

A rendering depicts the planned La Jolla Innovation Center at La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla Drive.
A rendering depicts UCSD’s planned La Jolla Innovation Center at the intersection of La Jolla Village Drive and Villa La Jolla Drive.
(Courtesy)

The Finance & Capital Strategies Committee of the University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the design of UC San Diego’s proposed La Jolla Innovation Center, which some local opponents have described as “ominous and monolithic” and “appallingly bad.”

The committee took the vote May 12 in an open session held virtually as part of the regents’ three-day meeting. The full Board of Regents voted unanimously May 13 to adopt the committee’s recommendation.

The Finance & Capital Strategies Committee also listed land acquisition, ground lease and space lease business terms for the public-private development of the La Jolla Innovation Center as an action item on the agenda for its closed session May 12, just before the open session.

Any action taken was not disclosed during open session, and it isn’t known whether or when such details will be made public, according to Claire Doan, executive director of strategic communications for the UC president’s office.

The La Jolla Innovation Center is a proposed seven-story building at the intersection of Villa La Jolla Drive and La Jolla Village Drive that would include five levels of UCSD Health Sciences and Extension uses, two levels of above-grade parking and two levels of subterranean parking.

The project also would include a ground-level cafe open to the public at the southeast corner of the building.

Two driveways would provide vehicle access to the Innovation Center, one from Villa La Jolla and another from the Villa Norte cul-de-sac.

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

Earlier this year, members of the La Jolla Community Planning Association and other La Jolla residents opposed the project at meetings and public hearings, citing traffic and aesthetic concerns.

LJCPA sent a letter to the regents dated May 11 and signed by association President Diane Kane to “register its displeasure in the architectural design and height” of the Innovation Center.

The building would be “out of scale with surrounding development” and “architecturally uninspired,” the letter states.

Kane told the La Jolla Light that she hopes the regents will “engage the community in further discussions about the building’s design, as requested in the CPA letter.”

The Finance & Capital Strategies Committee of the UC Board of Regents meets May 12.
The Finance & Capital Strategies Committee of the UC Board of Regents voted to approve the design of UC San Diego’s planned La Jolla Innovation Center.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

During public comments in the regents’ open session May 12, UCSD Associated Students President Manu Agni spoke in support of the Innovation Center. “This project will bring a much-needed educational resource in proximity to the UC San Diego campus and make access convenient for all regions,” he said.

He urged the regents to “reject the ‘not in my backyard’-style arguments of the opponents and please think about the numerous benefits for improving access for students.”

The project would allow UCSD Extension to expand its work on all fronts, Extension Dean Mary Walshok said. “I just wanted to reassure you that the academic purposes of this building will be served as well as the public service opportunities,” she added.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla says the La Jolla Innovation Center will change the "nature of our campus."
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In the finance committee meeting, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said the Innovation Center will “replace several seismically non-compliant and inefficient-use buildings” both on and off campus.

He said the project’s location is “significant,” as it’s “close to two light rail stops, which are on campus, [and] is across the street from the Veterans [Affairs] Medical Center. … Many people doing research in this building are actually VA-hired physicians.”

The building’s projected height of 100 feet is more than the 30 feet allowed in the coastal zone, but Khosla said “if you look at the surroundings, it actually fits visually. This does not stand out because the surrounding has buildings on high and low topography.”

According to the project’s website, “as a constitutionally established state entity, the university is not subject to municipal plans, policies and regulations of surrounding local governments, such as the city’s General Plan or its Coastal Height Limit Overlay Zone, for uses on property owned or controlled by the university that are used in furtherance of the UC’s education and research purposes.”

UCSD community liaison Anu Delouri said earlier this year that the university was looking to acquire and redevelop one acre of the seven-acre site.

“Upon acquisition of the property, the project site would be under the ownership and use of the UC regents and thus subject to UC land management policies, including those related to building height limits, setbacks and design,” the project website states.

Now that the project is approved, the university will start the process of acquiring the one acre, said Leslie Sepuka, UCSD associate communications director.

“I’m very excited about this,” Khosla said. “I think this changes the nature of our campus.”

Committee member Cecilia Estolano said the project “has a number of really admirable sustainability elements, including its strategic location near light rail stations, so I am a strong supporter of this project. … We really are creating value by planting the flag in this community.”

Jeff Graham, UCSD’s executive director of real estate, said in a statement to the Light that UCSD is “pleased the regents recognized the positive aspects of the project location, the attractive building design and the benefits [that] the new center for learning and research will deliver to the community.”

For more information about the project, visit blink.ucsd.edu/facilities/real-estate/ljic.html.