Funding for La Jolla shoreline parks gets support at budget town hall; money for police draws mixed views

Scripps Park
La Jolla residents voiced their support for increased maintenance and care of the shoreline parks in San Diego City Council District 1 at a budget town hall May 12.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Care for La Jolla’s parks and open spaces, as well as those across San Diego City Council District 1, took center stage at Councilman Joe LaCava’s budget town hall May 12.

The online meeting was intended to collect feedback on Mayor Todd Gloria’s $1.73 billion draft budget. It was one of two scheduled town halls; the second was held the morning of May 15.

Requests for rangers, maintenance of existing facilities and capital improvement projects in shoreline parks were raised in hopes that they will be funded in the 2021-22 fiscal year that starts July 1. There are more than 42,000 acres of park assets in San Diego, including almost 27,000 acres of open space and aquatic areas, according to the draft budget. The plan proposes a reduction of just over $69,000 for the Parks & Recreation Department.

“Community input is so essential to shape a responsible budget, one that drives our city forward,” said LaCava, who represents District 1, which includes La Jolla. “Listening and engaging with you allows me to make informed decisions that maintain our quality of life and make responsible use of your tax dollars.”

Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said there is “no more important document at City Hall than the annual budget” and called community input “vital.”

IBA Deputy Director Jeff Kawar said the city’s revenue from the transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax, took a major hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Beginning in 2019, we had an impact on our TOT reduction of about $40 million, and $100 million in fiscal year 2021 [July 2020 to June 2021]. We are moving into the recovery phase … but we’ll probably never fully recover all that was lost. The hope is that [$306 million in] federal relief funds can bridge us until such a time that we can recover to pre-pandemic levels.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches President Claudia Baranowski, speaking on behalf of other local community groups, requested funding for “the aging public facilities along the La Jolla coastline” that she said have been heavily impacted during the past year and “are almost to the point of failure.” The requests included increased public restroom maintenance and trash pickup in parks, along with repairs to stairs and handrails at beach access points. She asked that projects focused on safe beach access and park use receive high priority.

Sierra Club Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff asked that a Parks & Recreation staff member and/or a ranger be stationed full time at Point La Jolla and Boomer Beach “to keep people a safe distance from the wildlife,” chiefly the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.

“These sea lions are a huge tourist attraction for La Jolla and bring a lot of revenue to the city … and this area needs to be managed better,” she said. “Currently, park rangers are staffed there on an overtime basis as part of a trial run on weekends only. This has proved successful in keeping people and sea lions a safe distance.”

LaCava said the focus on open space was “not surprising” given that “that’s what makes District 1 a special district.” He acknowledged that lack of maintenance is a problem and that “when we don’t maintain things, they get more expensive to fix.”

However, since shoreline parks are almost exclusive to Districts 1 and 2, advocates for more parks funding need to contact other City Council members to garner their support, LaCava said.

“La Jolla in particular is a tourist attraction, and we need to get some of those TOT dollars to maintain shoreline parks,” he said. “So call in.”

Other issues

Residents also spoke with varying viewpoints about whether to increase the San Diego Police Department’s budget.

La Jolla resident Catherine Douglass stated her concern over police staffing, saying: “Right now, SDPD is down 90 detective positions and 20 sergeant positions, which means fewer crimes are solved and less supervision of officers. …. Patrol divisions routinely do not meet minimum recommended staffing guidelines, and this problem will grow worse with budget reductions.”

UC San Diego student Abby Reuter countered that it is “necessary we divest from the police and invest in other services, specifically to address homelessness and mental health services. Police are not equipped [to help with those issues], and throwing more money at the problem is not going to fix it.”

“We need to re-envision public safety to focus on the needs of the community, not just the needs of the Police Department,” Reuter said.

The statements were made before a video appeared on social media of San Diego police tackling and punching a homeless man in La Jolla.

La Jolla resident Bea Mittermiller voiced her support for funding climate action and equity. “We are running out of time in this climate crisis, and I would like the city to do whatever it can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions … and reduce the use of private cars,” she said.

Next steps

Tevlin said the mayor has until mid-May to announce significant increases or decreases to the council. In late May, the IBA will review the revisions the council is considering and make sure they are feasible and identify resources. The final budget will be released in June, with a council vote June 29.

To offer additional feedback in that time frame, email ◆