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Locals continue to lament state of La Jolla medians after quarterly review gives contractor ‘standard’ rating

An Aztec Landscaping employee works in a median at "The Throat" in La Jolla on Aug. 11.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The medians at the intersection of La Jolla Parkway, Torrey Pines Road and Hidden Valley Road — known as “The Throat” — continue to lack regular maintenance, according to La Jolla community leaders who also say they haven’t seen promised reports from the city of San Diego or its contractor for the maintenance.

Meanwhile, a city review says the contractor, Aztec Landscaping, met performance standards during the past quarter in seven of 11 categories.

Aztec Landscaping, based in Lemon Grove, has a $41,000 annual agreement with the city to maintain several medians at The Throat. The maintenance is paid for by gas taxes.

The deal is part of an arrangement for Aztec to maintain all 84 “gas tax medians” citywide for a total annual contract of $495,861, city spokesman Tim Graham said.

The contract, which began in February 2020, states Aztec will inspect irrigation, remove litter and weeds and prune shrubs and ground cover every two weeks at the La Jolla medians.

It also says the company will “replace plant material damaged or killed due to contractor’s negligence.”

La Jolla architect and urbanist Trace Wilson, who has been among local residents voicing frustration with the condition of the La Jolla medians, said he’s driven by 10 of the city’s gas tax medians recently and said all 10 are consistently in a state of “general disrepair.”

He said he saw unswept curbs and gutters and abundant weeds and dying trees and plants.

Several La Jollans say the maintenance of the medians at "The Throat" is not good enough.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In early May, representatives of the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department’s open space division met with community members in La Jolla for a walk-through to note problems and determine steps that might be taken. 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. She said the city would ask for reports of Aztec’s activities and conduct quarterly reviews of its performance.

The La Jolla Light most recently observed Aztec workers in the medians Aug. 11 and 25.

Graham said the city conducted a review of Aztec’s work in the past quarter at all 84 city medians.

An Aug. 22 review summary furnished to the Light stated that Aztec “met the performance standards during this quarter [May-July],” except for four items, including irrigation inspection, maintenance and repair of irrigation systems, pruning and edging shrubs and ground cover and sweeping gutters.

For the irrigation items, the report indicated the city had not received inspection reports early in the quarter and that “city staff met with the contractor to ensure reports are received in a timely manner.”

The report also stated that appropriate pruning would “ensure open visibility through the interior of shrubs and hedging, such as bird of paradise, lantana [and] native plum in all medians and right of ways.”

For sweeping gutters, the report said that “rather than blowing back into the medians, the material should be gathered and removed from the site.”

Aztec’s “performance improved in June and July; inspection sheets [were] turned in on time and plants were properly watered,” according to the report, which gave Aztec a “standard” rating.

It added that city staff will “develop a more comprehensive inspection sheet” for the contractor “to ensure that all issues are being documented and remedied.”

Aztec Landscaping co-founder Rafael Aguilar did not respond to the Light’s request for comment. In April, he said his crews are onsite as specified but said they are limited by the terms of the contract with the city. He said he was willing to increase services should the contract be updated.

Ed Witt, president of Enhance La Jolla, which manages The Village Maintenance Assessment District, said the review “means nothing.” He said he has been asking for all the reports from Aztec and believes that none exists.

On May 6, San Diego Parks & Recreation representative Steve Lucas said it had been “a couple of months” since such a report had been sent to the department.

But Graham said Aug. 25 that in the past few months, the city has been receiving regular reports from Aztec about its work.

Witt, however, said the La Jolla medians show “years of abuse by Aztec. … Any novice can see there’s seasonal deadwood around.”

Enhance La Jolla has authority to enhance city-provided services in the public right of way, including landscape maintenance, street and sidewalk cleaning, litter and graffiti abatement and additional trash collection. Witt is working with a committee of the La Jolla Shores Association (The Throat is within LJSA’s boundaries) to spruce up the medians.

LJSA President Janie Emerson said Aug. 24 that it doesn’t appear Aztec has done much in the medians.

Wilson said it is “really depressing to see taxpayer money squandered on the medians without proper maintenance and oversight.” He said the contract money should be returned.

Witt said a meeting with city officials and representatives of San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, will be held in mid-September to review the state of the medians, though no date has been set. ◆

Updates

3:16 p.m. Aug. 25, 2022: This article was updated with additional information.