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San Diego commits to care and accountability for landscaped medians in La Jolla’s ‘Throat’

An area in one of the medians in "The Throat" was cleared of dead brush and debris.
An area in one of the medians in “The Throat” was cleared of dead brush and debris.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The city of San Diego has agreed to take steps to make sure that care for the medians at the intersection of La Jolla Parkway, Torrey Pines Road and Hidden Valley Road — known to La Jollans as “The Throat” — is carried out.

The contractor for maintenance work will be asked to submit detailed reports of what is done during its twice-a-month visits, and the city will conduct quarterly assessments of the contractor’s performance. The city also will help rejuvenate the Rotary Club of La Jolla’s “welcome garden.”

In recent months, community members have complained that the area has not been tended or landscaped in accord with an agreement between the city and Aztec Landscaping.

Landscape maintenance contractor for the city of San Diego says the medians would look much better if it could visit more than every two weeks, as its contract specifies.

Aztec Landscaping, based in Lemon Grove, has a $41,000 annual contract to maintain several medians at The Throat. The maintenance is paid for by gas taxes. One of the medians is a triangle for which local Rotarians made a one-time $17,000 donation for landscaping in 2018.

The Aztec contract states the company will inspect irrigation, remove litter and weeds, and prune shrubs and ground cover every two weeks.

However, community representatives have said the area is not being properly maintained.

An April 25 walk-through of the area included Steve Hadley (representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla), La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson, Enhance La Jolla President Ed Witt, Rotary Club of La Jolla President Cindy Goodman and La Jolla architect and urbanist Trace Wilson. They observed broken sprinkler pipes, large dead bushes, dry brush and layers of dry pine needles.

On April 28, a crew from Aztec was seen working on The Throat medians. Later that day, a large pile of dead brush was surrounded by cones and caution tape and remained into the next morning.

On May 6, representatives of the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department open space division met with community members for a follow-up walk-through to note problems and determine steps that might be taken in the future. An Aztec representative was not present.

During that outing, Erika Ferreira, deputy director of the open space division, said Aztec is supposed to be onsite once every two weeks for basic maintenance, tree trimming and trash removal.

But Witt said the bird of paradise plants on one median appeared not to have been trimmed in two years and that other trees and brush were overgrown and dying. “It’s just awful that this wasn’t being looked at,” he said.

He called The Throat La Jolla’s “front door” and said that “literally millions of people come through this annually.”

Wilson said La Jolla is an amenity for “those in underserved communities [as well as] regional, state, national and international” visitors and called The Throat one of “the only planted right of ways in La Jolla.”

Ferreira said she would inquire about how often the landscaping crews send a “punch list” of what was wrong, what they fixed and their other activities when they are onsite.

Parks & Rec representative Steve Lucas said it had been “a couple of months” since a detailed report had been sent to the department.

Ferreira agreed that the city would ask for reports of Aztec’s activities and conduct quarterly reviews of its performance.

“We want to assess the performance issue and see where that gets us,” she said. “Beyond that, we have a current contract, with the frequency of what we have to maintain [we could adjust].”

Irrigation loops indicate where plants once were but have since died and been removed.
Irrigation loops indicate where plants once were but have since died and been removed. San Diego city representatives say they would be willing to replace the plants.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Aztec Landscaping co-founder Rafael Aguilar told the La Jolla Light last month that his crews are onsite as specified but said they are limited by the terms of the contract with the city. He said he is willing to increase services should the contract be updated.

“We are out there every two weeks,” he said. “But this is not a high-priority location. If any level of maintenance is to be increased or more intensive landscaping added, the city would have to give us a new scope or new contract specs based on what the community wants.”

If the city increased the frequency with which Aztec is able to be at the site, the “result would be a better-looking median,” Aguilar said.

He added that the perception that Aztec is not there as often as the contract requires is based on the litter that collects due to the thousands of cars that pass through The Throat each day and the speed at which certain plants grow in the local climate.

To make a more immediate change, Ferreira said she would work with crews to fill in the Rotary Club’s “welcome garden” on a triangular slice of land on Torrey Pines Road at La Jolla Shores Drive, replacing plants that have died and been removed in areas where irrigation has already been established. ◆