La Jolla streetscape plan gets approval from permit review and traffic boards

A conceptual image shows what could be done at Wall Street and Girard Avenue as part of the Village streetscape plan.
A conceptual image shows what could be done at Wall Street and Girard Avenue as part of the streetscape plan for La Jolla’s Village.
(Courtesy of Enhance La Jolla)

Having already received the green light from the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee, a Village streetscape improvement plan got approval this week from La Jolla’s Development Permit Review Committee and Traffic & Transportation Board.

The DPR Committee voted unanimously Dec. 14 to endorse the proposal in concept and said it “looks forward to reviewing any specific plans that may come before us.” The next day, the T&T Board voted 6-1 to approve the plan. The Planned District Ordinance Committee voted unanimously Nov. 8 to support the first phase.

The streetscape plan is a $15 million project to renovate Girard Avenue between Silverado and Prospect streets and the area known as “The Dip” at Prospect. Planned street improvements in the public right of way include curb extensions, paving, landscaping, lighting, conversion of northbound Prospect to a public pedestrian way between Girard and Herschel avenues and converting the southbound side of Prospect in that area to two-way traffic.

Applicant representative Mark Steele, founder of architectural and planning firm M.W. Steele Group, said the project has been sponsored by the La Jolla Community Foundation and Enhance La Jolla, which administers the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District. Through the MAD, Enhance La Jolla has the ability to work in the public right of way.

The four phases include creating a plaza at The Dip on Prospect Street, establishing a midblock crossing in the 7800 block of Girard Avenue, renovating the intersection of Girard and Wall Street, and adding landscaping and pop-outs (curb extensions at an intersection that help make pedestrians more visible and slow car speeds around the turn) on Girard at Silverado Street. Throughout the four phases, plans include improved landscaping, additional benches and lighting and artistic elements.

Community Foundation Chairwoman Phyllis Pfeiffer, who also is president and general manager of the La Jolla Light, said about $1.5 million is already available to complete one of the four phases.

The Girard Avenue/Wall Street renovation is expected to be done first due to funding availability. There is no secured order for the other phases.

In the first phase, “you get a great space in front of Peet’s [Coffee], good benches, interesting lighting, and this would be a place for a wayfinding sign that tells you where things are,” Steele said, referring to the Girard/Wall project. “We’re going to create a buffer between the cars and people.”

Steele said it would include public art and possibly decorative paving.

“We wanted to let everyone see what The Village can be and get more excitement going before we do The Dip,” said Steele, who added that the team “is getting ready to do final design” but has not yet applied for a permit for any phase.

DPR review

Among the topics DPR members discussed is how outdoor dining could affect the plan’s execution.

Trustee Angeles Leira said she walks a lot in the community and that in “the last two years, the restaurants have gone into the streets … more people are walking, which is wonderful, but as more people walk, you need to make the sidewalks as wide as you can make them. Some of our sidewalks are still not wide enough.”

She cautioned against putting “too much landscaping” on the pop-outs so as to keep the sidewalks as wide as possible.

Through the city of San Diego’s “Spaces as Places” program, restaurants have a mechanism to make their outdoor dining permanent by allowing them to have seating on sidewalks and metered and unmetered parking spaces in front of their venues as long as they pay a fee, a requirement that until now has not been imposed.

Pfeiffer said she was “very concerned” about how Spaces as Places may impact some of the streetscape changes and said she needed to learn more. “We can’t spend $9 million and have someone put barriers up so they can put their tables out there,” she said.

Pfeiffer said she would look into how long the current outdoor dining permit extension lasts and would use that time to reach out to business owners and raise additional funds.

Steele said the plan includes adding streetlights and finding other ways to light the street, though specifics have not been decided.

The plan also calls for planting trees and creating an on-street canopy. “People want to get rid of the dying trees … but the question remains as to whether to replace them all the same and have them be uniform or do we add in a little bit of variety so it is more informal,” Steele said. “We’ve heard arguments on both sides, and that has to evolve.”

Pfeiffer said “we’re going to fill in where we can fill in and replace the dead ones. … We also want to make sure the tree canopy doesn’t block [building] signs.”

Pfeiffer noted that if a merchant or building owner has planted new trees and they are healthy, “we are not going to ask them to take them out.”

T&T review

During the T&T hearing, Chairman Brian Earley called the streetscape plan “one of the more exciting projects ever to hit La Jolla.”

Steele said the plan includes “some traffic control and pedestrian control for Girard and Prospect.”

The portion of the project at Girard and Silverado, for example, is “really focused on curb extensions, landscape, trying to make it easier to cross Silverado,” Steele said, noting difficulties at that intersection for pedestrians and drivers alike.

Shortening “the pedestrian travel between the streets,” both at Girard and Silverado and at a midblock crossing added on Girard between Silverado and Wall streets, “will really help a lot,” Steele said.

The area where Prospect Street is one-way traffic, between Girard and Herschel avenues, will become for pedestrians only, Steele said.

“The larger Prospect link” (where Girard continues from Prospect to La Jolla Cove), “some of it is two ways but a lot of it’s one way; that’s going to become all two-way.”

The entire plan would remove 37 existing parking spaces but add 34, for a net loss of three spaces, Steele said. He added there’s a possibility of losing “a few more spaces.”

Board member Natalie Aguirre praised the streetscape plan but said “what I don’t see in this program is something substantial and serious about parking.” She added that restaurant and retail employees are parking on the street in The Village, preventing customers from using the spots.

Trustee Donna Aprea asked if area property owners support the project. Steele said they were surveyed two years ago and expressed agreement. He, Pfeiffer and supporter Jack McGrory indicated the team will renotice the property owners for support soon.

A motion to approve the streetscape plan passed 6-1, with T&T member Tom Brady saying: “It’s such a beautiful plan. And the effort that goes into it and will continue to go into it is very important for everybody in La Jolla.”

Aprea opposed the motion, saying she was “not comfortable with voting today on a project that’s going to be done maybe 10 years from now. It could change in the interim.”

Pfeiffer said the group plans to start work on Girard in 2022.

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