‘This isn’t a fool’s errand’: La Jolla cityhood group shares plans with Town Council audience
Despite costs estimated in the millions before voters can decide on the initiative, the board believes ‘this is a good thing for all.’
“It’s more than time for us to move forward,” La Jollan Janie Emerson said of a local group’s efforts to incorporate La Jolla as its own city.
Emerson is a board member of the Association for the City of La Jolla, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that is spearheading the proposal to remove La Jolla from the city of San Diego. All six board members appeared at the May 11 meeting of the La Jolla Town Council to introduce themselves and discuss the association’s initiative.
The effort has been underway since members of the group that became the Association for the City of La Jolla began meeting in September 2021, association President Trace Wilson said.
“La Jolla is a regional destination and should be maintained and serviced to the highest level so all people can enjoy this unique natural and cultural asset of San Diego County,” he said.
The board contends La Jolla’s benefits under incorporation would include the ability to define, prioritize and carry out road and infrastructure projects and improve the general quality of life, as well as having a “seat at the table in Sacramento.”
San Diego’s benefits, Wilson said, would include not having the “tremendous cost and liability” of maintaining La Jolla, along with other boons such as leasing some services like public safety back to La Jolla and reaping “broad economic uplift” from an improved La Jolla.
In addition, La Jolla likely would pay “alimony” to San Diego to make up any net loss of revenue caused by La Jolla’s secession, Emerson said.
“The numbers have to come out even,” she said.
Wilson gave a similar, shorter presentation during the La Jolla Shores Association’s virtual meeting May 10. He was the only association member to speak.
The association board — which in addition to Wilson and Emerson includes Mary Coakley Munk, Diane Kane, Sharon Wampler and Ed Witt — began by consulting with representatives of Malibu, Encinitas and Solana Beach, three Southern California cities that incorporated in the 1980s and ‘90s.
La Jolla’s path differs, however. It is already part of San Diego, and no California community has successfully seceded from a parent city at least since Local Agency Formation Commissions were established in 1963, and likely much longer.
LAFCOs provide guidelines and assistance to communities hoping to incorporate. La Jolla will need approval from San Diego County’s LAFCO.
Also needed are majority approval in two public votes, one for residents in La Jolla and another for those throughout San Diego.
San Diego LAFCO Executive Officer Keene Simonds told the La Jolla Light last week that registered voters in La Jolla would vote on both measures.
“Best-case scenario,” Wilson said, is to have the election in November 2024.
But much must be done before then.
“This isn’t a fool’s errand,” Wilson said at the Town Council meeting, citing a preliminary fiscal analysis done by urban economist Richard Berkson during a cityhood movement by a different group in 2005.
The financial analysis is needed to show whether La Jolla’s independence is feasible. Berkson currently is working on an updated analysis that Wilson said should be completed by late summer.
Though previous attempts at La Jolla incorporation have failed, the 2005 numbers showed “this is actually possible fiscally,” Wilson said.
The current efforts have been shared with state and regional lawmakers, Wilson said. The association also is working with officials from the city of San Diego to gather data.
A proposed map of a city of La Jolla shows its boundaries as Del Mar in the north, Interstate 5 in the east, the ocean in the west and Turquoise Street in the south. It leaves out UC San Diego but includes Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.
The new city would be run by an elected city council and mayor and a hired city manager and city attorney, Wilson said.
The association plans to lease public safety services (police, fire and lifeguards), water, trash and wastewater management, he said.
It would not at first look to establish its own public school district, Wilson said, though it would seek to have its own library.
In coming years, a city of La Jolla might establish all services independently of San Diego, he said.
The preliminary fiscal analysis is costing about $60,000 (the association has raised $55,000 in private donations so far).
If it indicates the new city is feasible, the association will begin a formal application to LAFCO, which needs to include a petition supporting cityhood signed by 25 percent of La Jolla registered voters. Those things together are estimated to cost $200,000 to $250,000, Wampler said.
The third phase is to get the measure on the ballot, which could cost an additional $3 million to $5 million, she said.
“We’re just at the beginning now,” Wampler said.
“The numbers for us to become our own city may seem somewhat staggering,” Coakley Munk said. “But … if you think about the money that we as individuals have to spend to do any of the projects that we get done, the price ... to actually implement this action is very small.”
She referred to donations that funded the $105 million Museum of Contemporary Art renovation and other privately funded projects.
“I firmly believe that when we show [voters] data and are totally transparent ... this is a good thing for all,” Wilson said.
In the meantime, the association is paying attention to opinion pages and social media outlets and using praise, criticism and other comments about the initiative as “market research,” Wampler said.
Witt paraphrased John F. Kennedy in saying: “We don’t choose to do this because it’s easy. We choose to do this because it’s hard.”
To learn more about the association, visit cityoflajolla.org.
Other Town Council news
Lifeguard update: San Diego Fire-Rescue Lt. Lonnie Stephens introduced newly promoted Sgt. Connor Robbins, a graduate of La Jolla High School who has been assigned to La Jolla.
“We’re super excited to have him on our team,” Stephens said.
Lifeguards are now posted at Windansea and Marine Street beaches in the afternoons, Stephens said.
Full summer staffing will begin Friday, June 16, he added.
Hazardous rip currents continue due to sand erosion and movement, Stephens said. “If you’re not super in tune with the ocean and intimate with a lot of these pocket beaches and they’re not guarded, please don’t go swim there.”
New Town Council trustee: To replace trustee Chuck Merriman, who resigned to move to the Midwest, the Town Council elected Christina Torres, a local Realtor who ran in March.
Next meeting: The La Jolla Town Council next meets at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 8, online and at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Learn more at lajollatowncouncil.org. ◆
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