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City of La Jolla? Town Council holds forum on the effort’s revival

Ann Kerr Bache and others discuss the potential effects of La Jolla independence from San Diego during a forum May 12.
Ann Kerr Bache (left) and others discuss the potential effects of La Jolla independence from San Diego during a community forum May 12 at the La Jolla Recreation Center.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Should La Jolla try to become an independent city? Take our poll.

Should La Jolla become a city independent of San Diego? The La Jolla Town Council took up the question in a community forum online and at the La Jolla Recreation Center on May 12, reviving discussions from years earlier.

Previous efforts under the name Independent La Jolla (later Incorporate La Jolla) got as far as contracting with Sacramento-based Economic & Planning Systems in 2019 for an initial fiscal analysis of the proposed incorporation of La Jolla. But Incorporate La Jolla went defunct and the study never happened.

Moderating the forum, Town Council past president Ann Kerr Bache said a 2005 study indicated that “economically, La Jolla could survive” seceding from San Diego.

A group of La Jollans has been meeting to explore furthering the process, local architect Trace Wilson said.

“We can do much better for the region of San Diego if we’re on our own,” he said. “We want to make the coastline and our Village the best it can be.”

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson, who is part of that group, said, “We’re really excited about what this can do for all of us, but also for everybody in the city of San Diego and also California.”

Should La Jolla try to become an independent city? Take our poll here.

Cody Petterson, the Town Council’s government liaison, said the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 contains the laws governing secession and that it’s “easier to incorporate from the unincorporated county than it is to detach from an existing city.”

The primary challenge to secession, Petterson said, is the “dual majority vote rule,” which means a majority of La Jollans, and then a majority in the rest of San Diego, would have to approve the detachment.

In addition, Petterson said, if analyses by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission find there will be a negative fiscal impact, “you will have to pay mitigation payments.”

San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Officer Keene Simonds encouraged La Jollans to look into independence.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The 2005 study estimated La Jolla would owe $4.6 million in annual mitigation payments to San Diego.

LAFCO Executive Officer Keene Simonds said it might take about three years of those payments to neutralize the impact of secession.

Still, Simonds encouraged La Jollans to look into independence. “I’m a big fan of self-government in terms of syncing up local decision-making with local community needs,” he said.

He said La Jollans should ask themselves, “Is incorporation desired and why? If it’s desired because you want to have self-control for quality of life as you see it — roads, parks, level of public safety, community planning — well, then I say get going.”

“What we’re trying to do is improve La Jolla for everybody and for everybody that comes here.”

— Melinda Merryweather

Simonds said LAFCO would help La Jolla should it move forward, though “there’s no guarantee it’d be successful.”

He estimated the process would take two to four years, involving further fiscal analysis and convincing the rest of San Diego that it would be beneficial.

“I think you could make an argument,” Simonds said.

“As an outsider to this community, I do see that there are unique social and economic interests in this community that are distinct from the rest of the city of San Diego,” he said. “I’m guessing a lot of people in the city of San Diego probably already think that [La Jolla is independent] because of these unique distinctions. I think that’s what I would focus in on.”

Simonds said a challenge would be to help San Diegans believe the mitigation payments would be fair to the rest of the city.

Local resident Melinda Merryweather, who has worked for La Jolla independence for decades, said: “I feel we are not trying to take La Jolla out of here on a helicopter. What we’re trying to do is improve La Jolla for everybody and for everybody that comes here.”

With the current state of La Jolla, from potholes to deteriorated sidewalks and more, “we’re losing a lot of our history,” she said. “So all we’re trying to do is preserve what we have for the rest of San Diego.”

Merryweather said the mitigation payments “would be a benefit to the city of San Diego [for] ... other communities that have less.”

Kerr Bache said “the bottom line is it’s going to become a checkbook problem. It’s organization, it’s people, but it’s going to take money to do petitions and ballot initiatives.”

The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, online and at the Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org.