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La Jolla Parks & Beaches group holds off on voting on ‘controversial’ candidate for vacant board seat

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches group meets July 26 via Zoom. A vote on seating Jon Wiggins (bottom right) was postponed.
The La Jolla Parks & Beaches group meets July 26 via Zoom. A vote on seating Jon Wiggins (bottom right) on the board was postponed.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

For the second time recently, the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board is facing controversy in filling a vacant board seat.

Rather than customarily seating the next person in line — La Jolla resident Jon Wiggins — the board decided July 26 to postpone the vote over concerns about Wiggins being “controversial.”

Following the July 9 death of board member Stan Minick, LJP&B has a vacancy to fill. According to the group’s bylaws, the board may fill the vacancy from among those who are eligible. To be eligible, a candidate must be at least 18; live, work or own property in La Jolla or represent an organization that does business in La Jolla; and attend three LJP&B meetings in the previous six months. Those who do are put on the eligible list.

The next eligible person was Wiggins, who has spoken critically about the board’s handling of comments by two board members who raised objections in September to chalk art on the La Jolla Bike Path that supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Both said the drawings, which they viewed as political expression, should not be in a public place.

Several community members called the comments offensive and demanded the pair’s resignation or removal from the board. One of the two, Mary Ellen Morgan, stepped down in February. The other, Marie Hunrichs, is still on the board.

In a letter to the La Jolla Light in October, Wiggins called the comments “blatantly racist.” In January, after the board opted not to remove the two members, he told LJP&B: “The rest of you looked on and did nothing. … It’s obviously clear that everyone is OK with your fellow members’ racist remarks, otherwise one of you would have put forward a motion to remove [them].”

Wiggins said he wants to join LJP&B because “I care a lot about La Jolla and have spent the last 15 years here. I care about the parks and beaches and open spaces. I enjoy the people that utilize those spaces. … [I would like to] make a difference in a more effective way from within.”

Though Wiggins’ remarks were not addressed during the July 26 meeting, LJP&B member Tom Brady said: “I’ve received a comment about [his] activities in the community that make me wonder if it would be appropriate to vote on [his] joining the group. … The comment specifically is that ‘he causes too much trouble and is too controversial.’ We do not need controversial people of this magnitude on this board. I need more time to vet this candidate before I would recommend the board vote on accepting him.”

Brady suggested waiting until the September meeting (LJP&B does not meet in August) to vote on whether to seat Wiggins.

Brady said the motion to postpone was “not any aspersion against Jon, it’s just to get more facts about the candidate.”

“I would love to have Jon” on the board, he added.

As debate ensued, LJP&B member Dan Allen said that during a recent bylaws update, there was discussion about whether the board would have the ability to vet candidates. “The sentiment was not to vet candidates but just give the seat to the next person in line,” Allen said.

Nevertheless, the motion to table the vote passed.

The last time there was a vacancy, in April, the board also faced controversy. Before seating the Rev. Tim Seery — who also was critical of the board’s handling of the Black Lives Matter-related comments — some members asked that the decision be postponed for a month. However, the motion failed and Seery was seated.

Seery, who is senior pastor of Congregational Church of La Jolla, called the board’s decision to postpone the vote on Wiggins “disappointing” and a “political move.”

“Jon fulfills all the requirements in the bylaws; this isn’t a popularity contest,” Seery said. “You decided to fill the vacancy with me, so it’s inconsistent to not fill a vacancy with Jon. And I think Jon is not controversial, he just holds a mirror up to the truth and I think he would be an asset to this group.”

Wiggins later told the Light that “I understand and fully support the board’s decision to delay filling the vacancy. My hopes are that it gives all involved the time and space to mourn and to begin the healing process of such a significant loss. I offer the Minick family my sincerest condolences in this sorrowful time.”

Other LJP&B news

Scripps Park restroom facility fencing: After meeting with San Diego city liaisons about the Ellen Browning Scripps Park “comfort station” (aka restroom facility) and whether construction fencing could be moved to create more park space and open up the view to La Jolla Cove during the summer, LJP&B Vice President Bob Evans said the hope may be dashed.

“I doubt the early moving of the fence can happen without compromising the overall project completion timeline,” Evans said. He added that he didn’t want to pursue anything that would push the date back further. However, he reported that the construction team has modified the fencing in some places.

The project, which will create a restroom and storage facility, has faced multiple delays since construction began in 2019. The city will work on the project through the summer, with completion expected in mid-November.

Picnic grove: LJP&B member Alexandra Corsi said two meetings had taken place with city representatives in the past two months to learn more about what it would take to build a picnic grove in Scripps Park.

“At this time, the city said a coastal development permit would be required, which is time-consuming, so our group is … going to apply for that and the city is working with us to let us know what will be required,” Corsi said. Once that information is available, a schedule and final costs can be determined.

The project would renovate a picnic area in the park to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, upgrade the tables and benches and replace a dying tree. The hope is to have it completed in the fall so it can be unveiled alongside the comfort station.

Next meeting: La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27. The meeting is expected to be held at the La Jolla Recreation Center, but that has not been finalized. Learn more at lajollaparksbeaches.org. ◆