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‘Controversial’ candidate is seated on La Jolla Parks & Beaches board

La Jolla resident Jon Wiggins addresses the La Jolla Parks & Beaches board during its Sept. 27 meeting online.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Jon Wiggins is elected about a year after criticizing the board for its handling of comments by two members about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches group narrowly decided Sept. 27 to seat board candidate Jon Wiggins after a two-month delay triggered by comments some considered “too controversial.”

Following the July 9 death of board member Stan Minick, LJP&B had 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.

For the record:

3:07 p.m. Sept. 28, 2021This article has been updated to correct Andrea Russell’s first name.

Rather than seating Wiggins, a La Jolla resident, as the next person in line, the board decided July 26 to postpone a vote to September (the board did not meet in August), citing Wiggins’ previous critical comments about the board.

Trustee Tom Brady, who made the motion to postpone the vote in July, explained he had done so because he received a text message from an unidentified person “that I really respect” indicating Wiggins was “too controversial,” which “played a big role in the board tabling the vote.”

Brady also expressed concern with some of Wiggins’ past comments about the board, calling them “volatile.”

Wiggins has criticized the board’s handling of comments by two members who raised objections in September 2020 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 pair’s comments offensive and demanded their 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 Morgan and Hunrichs, 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 at this week’s meeting that his attitude toward the board has changed. “Things with this board have evolved,” he said. “I was very frustrated last year with the progress of the board as it related to the incident. I think there has been a lot of positive change … and I want to make a difference.”

In discussing whether to seat Wiggins, trustee Sally Miller asked about which projects he would want to shepherd as a board member. “Most of the board members come with specific projects in mind. … What project [are you] interested in working on?” she asked.

He responded that he didn’t have a specific project to bring forward but added that he is “open to suggestions” for joining other working groups associated with particular projects.

Trustee Ken Hunrichs, Marie’s husband, repeated his opinion that the vote to seat Wiggins should be postponed until new bylaws the board is drafting are implemented. But LJP&B President Claudia Baranowski noted the seating was being orchestrated under the current bylaws with which the board now operates.

Ken Hunrichs said he wanted an apology for Wiggins’ prior comments. “Since there is no interest in any project, but only wanting to change La Jolla Parks & Beaches, I would recommend we not vote for Jon at this point,” he said. “If there were an apology issued to the two members [Marie Hunrichs and Morgan], I would say that would go a long way in recovering his status. But he also insulted and slandered 18 other members of this board.”

Coming to Wiggins’ defense, resident Catherine Cox said he is “far from volatile, and I strongly believe the last year and a half has been a journey for all of us. Jon is an advocate and activist. … I support Jon and think he would be a great asset.”

Resident Andrea Russell added: “I have come to know Jon and find him to be a valuable asset as a neighbor and community member. I think this board would be well-served … and would move ... in the right direction [to have him].”

A motion to seat Wiggins passed 8-6, with Brady, Ann Dynes, the Hunrichses, John Leek and Melinda Merryweather opposed. Miller and Barbara Dunbar abstained without comment. ◆