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Could Bird Rock MAD funds be used for proposed neighborhood signs?

A rendering shows a possible design for neighborhood signs to be placed on La Jolla Boulevard roundabouts.
A rendering presented to the Bird Rock Community Council by architect Trace Wilson shows a possible design for neighborhood signs to be placed on La Jolla Boulevard roundabouts.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Community Council debates use of $20,000 in Maintenance Assessment District money for sculptures of birds on rocks on La Jolla Boulevard.

An otherwise standard review of the Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District was jostled this week by the suggestion that MAD funds could be used to help pay for new “Bird Rock” signs on La Jolla Boulevard.

Property owners pay an assessment through the MAD for care of Bird Rock’s public spaces beyond what the city of San Diego can provide, including landscaping and litter removal. The annual MAD meeting took place Nov. 1 to provide a snapshot of the previous year, announcement of the budget for the coming fiscal year, changes in maintenance tasks such as landscaping, and other items.

Some have said a line item for $20,000 in the fiscal 2023 MAD budget for signage could be used to help fund new decorative rocks with sculptures of birds on La Jolla Boulevard roundabouts at both ends of the commercial district, as proposed by local architect and urbanist Trace Wilson. The Bird Rock Community Council got a first look at the plan Oct. 4. Final details are still being worked out, and a design has not been chosen.

Ultimately, the BRCC board and those in attendance at the Nov. 1 meeting agreed to send a mailer in coming weeks to property owners who pay into the MAD with information about the budget and a “ballot” to gather input on the idea of using MAD funds for the signs.

Bird Rock MAD representative Barbara Dunbar was among those opposed to the idea, saying there are several questions surrounding the installation of the sculptures.

She asserted that the San Diego municipal code “allows for community signs, but the community is La Jolla, not Bird Rock. Bird Rock is a neighborhood.”

Dunbar also questioned whether the city would approve having sculptures on the roundabouts “and whether it would be appropriate for a project like that to be funded with MAD funds — what is the benefit for all the property owners that contribute to the MAD fund? — and whether that is an allowable expenditure rather than it being privately financed.”

She said the MAD has a contractual provision “that does not permit funds from the MAD to be commingled with private funds.”

Some suggested that the BRCC reach out to the city attorney’s office and other applicable city agencies to determine whether the use of the funds would be permitted.

Should the city determine it is allowed, all of those who pay into the MAD should be given an opportunity to vote on the idea, Dunbar said. “The property owners have to be the ones to decide this. In the past, the budget has been approved at the annual meeting, but it has never been contentious, so this is the first time there is a question of whether something should be done or not. It will require us to make sure we get feedback from those that are paying in.”

Bird Rock Community Council members and meeting attendees
Members of the Bird Rock Community Council and others meet Nov. 1 online.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

BRCC Vice President Joe Parker cautioned against “putting the cart before the horse” because there is not a finalized proposal or cost.

Resident Darcy Ashley expressed concern that there were no commitments for additional funding should the project cost more than $20,000.

BRCC board member Craig Bender, owner of Bird Rock Animal Hospital and a proponent of the new signs, previously told the La Jolla Light that merchants have been asking for some type of similar signage for a decade.

“It is the No. 1 thing that merchants have asked for,” Bender said. “There are so many empty shops on the Boulevard, and some good ones have left because Bird Rock doesn’t have that destination feel. If Bird Rock residents want more restaurants and new businesses to fill the empty spaces, we have to create an environment where people want to come visit. ... This is what the merchants need to be successful when they know they are actually in Bird Rock.”

The Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District was initiated in 2004 for “assuming responsibility for maintenance of the public landscaping associated with the city-planned traffic-calming improvements along La Jolla Boulevard and nearby residential streets,” according to the BRCC. The traffic-calming measures included five landscaped roundabouts and a median along La Jolla Boulevard.

The following year, property owners formally voted to approve formation of the MAD, which the city ratified.

Dunbar said installation of the roundabouts led to increased retail sales in the business area, creation of more parking, reduced traffic noise and crashes and improved walkability.

As part of her MAD report for 2022, she said “the condition of the MAD landscaping has further improved due to great management and the efforts of Urban Landcare, [which] provides general maintenance and landscape services.” BRCC renewed the contract with Urban Landcare in May.

She said recent efforts have focused on reducing water usage and that landscaping has been modified to assist in that.

Continuing challenges include littering, curb drive-overs and minor accidents, she said. “Damaged street signs continually need to be replaced. ... They are most often hit in drive-overs.”

Any damage to infrastructure should be reported through the city’s Get It Done app, she said. ◆