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Questions delay Community Planning Association decision on parts of Cuvier Street vacation plan

The portion of Cuvier Street shaded in green is proposed to be vacated to help plans to revamp the La Jolla Rec Center.
The portion of Cuvier Street shaded in green is proposed to be vacated to afford more land for plans to revamp the La Jolla Recreation Center.
(Courtesy of Trace Wilson)

With questions lingering about who owns what part of Cuvier Street, the La Jolla Community Planning Association did not vote July 1 on key parts of a proposal for the city of San Diego to vacate a portion of the roadway.

The plan has been making the rounds among local community advisory groups in recent months, garnering approval from the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee, Traffic & Transportation Board and Planned District Ordinance Committee.

The LJCPA board was tasked with considering whether to support the vacation of a part of Cuvier Street bordering the La Jolla Recreation Center and The Bishop’s School, a lot-line adjustment and a coastal development permit to remove parking spaces and replace them on Prospect Street by making the spaces diagonal rather than parallel.

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

In a street vacation, the city relinquishes a public right of way or public service easement and turns it over to an adjacent property owner or owners.

The requested Cuvier vacation also includes a lot-line adjustment, splitting the real estate widthwise instead of the usual method of drawing a line down the middle of the road.

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

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

Wilson said the street vacation plan would cut the property in a way that is “much more useful” to both parties — horizontally rather than vertically.

“Bishop’s owns [the property] to one side of the center line of Cuvier Street, and the Rec Center owns the [other side] to the center line of Cuvier. Therefore, it takes both parties to vacate a street. We have partnered to make this happen,” he said.

But that raised some eyebrows, with several board members questioning whether Bishop’s actually owns half the street or the city owns the entire street.

“I haven’t seen anything that makes that clear,” said trustee Ray Weiss. “I know the city owns the street in front of my house, not the other way around. If Bishop’s actually owns half the street, they would presumably be paying to maintain the street … then this is a fair thing. But if this is the city giving half its street to Bishop’s and keeping the other half, I think there are some issues.”

In a typical street vacation, the city relinquishes the property without compensation.

Bishop’s director of facilities Brian Williams said the city has told the school that Bishop’s owns half the street, “and that’s the principle we are acting under,” he said.

Wilson said the applicants had received clearance from the city to proceed as if Bishop’s owns half the street and the city owns the other half, but he could not produce documentation to show that.

City representatives could not immediately be reached for comment July 2.

Some trustees asked for proof of ownership or an affirming statement from the city.

But trustee Helen Boyden said she was comfortable with the stated ownership of the land and was “pleased that something is going to benefit the community by coming to this underutilized piece of land.”

Some people at the meeting questioned whether the planned distribution of space is fair to each party and whether there is enough public benefit in the city relinquishing the land.

“There are some questions here about whether this is legal. I’m comfortable that what is being proposed is legit,” trustee Greg Jackson said. “But layered on top of this is the issue of fairness. Does this feel like a fair transaction?”

Trustee Glen Rasmussen didn’t think so, arguing that because The Bishop’s School would be getting a “buildable parcel,” the square footage should be smaller so the public gets more open space.

“The quid pro quo would be to give more open space to the Rec Center,” he said. “The public is the entity that deserves the open space. Bishop’s is getting quite a benefit by getting a buildable parcel.”

Plans for what The Bishop’s School would do with its portion of the land have not been finalized, but a new development likely would be a dance studio. Whatever the development ends up being, the school would have to obtain a coastal development permit for it, which would go before local groups for review.

Board members also questioned whether the divergence from the typical lot-line adjustment is permissible and whether there would be other city costs associated with the adjustment.

“I have spoken with the city and it is allowed,” Williams said. “We want to continue to discuss to ensure Bishop’s is covering its fair share. This is not a land grab for us.”

The board decided to split the items into two votes: one on the street vacation and one on the unconventional lot-line adjustment.

A motion to support the street vacation passed 9-3, with three abstentions. Those who abstained did so because they did not have minutes from the PDO Committee meeting. Those who voted against it did not comment.

A motion to support the lot-line adjustment was continued to the next meeting so the applicants could provide proof of ownership of the street. Because the item was carried over, the board also did not vote on the coastal development permit, holding it until the next meeting Thursday, Aug. 5. ◆