Review of La Jolla’s blueprint for development begins as PDO Committee examines role of retail

The retail-heavy part of Girard Avenue has special zoning under La Jolla's Planned District Ordinance.
The retail-heavy part of Girard Avenue has special zoning under La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance, but that may be revisited as part of discussions of an update to the PDO that started this week.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The Planned District Ordinance is the subject of discussions to update it to reflect current needs and determine the best use of available space.


For the foreseeable future, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee will be meeting monthly to discuss not a project or a change to an existing building but the PDO itself.

The PDO, which is considered a blueprint for development in La Jolla, is the subject of discussions to update it to reflect current needs and determine the best use of available space.

During a fuller-than-usual PDO Committee meeting July 10, board members shared the reasons for the review and collected comments from the public.

Committee Chairwoman Deborah Marengo said “there have been a lot of changes with the [city of San Diego] land development code, and different items have affected the community in terms of development here in La Jolla. So we have been asked to look at the PDO and see if there are areas that need to be reinforced and areas that need to be lightened a little bit and try to bring it into closer conformance with the land development code.”

The Planned District Ordinance was approved in 1983 “and hasn’t really been touched since then,” Marengo said. “So we are dealing with an antiquated document and we need a fresh set of eyes and community involvement” to update it.

Marengo credited the PDO with being “very sensitive to the uniqueness of La Jolla” and to the fact that the 92037 ZIP code has “several communities within a community.”

The ordinance has different zones to reflect different needs, such as the primary retail and visitor-oriented commercial area in the core of La Jolla (Girard Avenue and Prospect Street), labeled Zone 1, and the multifamily area to the west and north of the commercial core and extending to the shoreline, deemed Zone 5.

Board member Andy Fotsch emphasized the importance of keeping separate zones. “What works in Bird Rock does not have to work in The Village,” he said. “There is not a one-size-fits-all. … To think of those things differently is really important.”

The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee meets July 10 at The Bishop's School.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The meeting touched briefly on the purpose and intent of the PDO, but the discussion dovetailed into its retail requirements in certain areas, which Marengo said “is a good thing in some zones and a little too stringent in other zones.” For example, the PDO has a requirement for several zones that 50 percent of ground-floor space in new development be dedicated to retail.

“Retail has really shrunk down, so I wanted to move into that and really talk about retail requirements,” she said.

While calling the ground-floor retail requirement “important,” she argued that “property values and rents have gone up over the years and [the need for] retail space has decreased.”

In speaking with real estate agents who focus on retail, Marengo inquired as to the “perfect size” for a retail space that could rent easily in today’s market. “They said 700 square feet would lease all day long,” she said. “We have spaces that are 3,000 and 4,000 square feet and the rent is extremely high.”

Fotsch agreed, saying “retail is vital, but I think the problem that has come up is … if you have a [large] lot, the back half is in the dark and not usable. Retail has changed … it’s more boutique, it’s smaller. So how do we keep the retail in the front that has active engagement on the street? And is there a better use for the back parts of these ground-floor units?”

During public comments, Bird Rock resident Sharon Wampler said places like Liberty Station in Point Loma have “small spaces within bigger spaces … and we have some really amazing spaces in which you can have six businesses in one space.”

Resident Gillian Ackland said “we have a lot of commercial spaces here and it is starting to overwhelm [the area]. … We have gotten to a critical stage.”

Several speakers said a better balance of retail and residential would be mutually beneficial and should be codified.

Others advocated designating space for retail and residential offerings and more public gathering spaces.

Bird Rock resident Craig Bender expressed concerns about parking regulations and how they can be addressed in future iterations of the PDO.

The comments will be considered when amendments to the PDO are drafted. No specific changes were proposed at the July 10 meeting, but at future gatherings, changes likely will be discussed and voted on.

The board opted to have PDO update discussions during its full meetings rather than appoint an ad-hoc committee. Before any changes are submitted to the city, they will go through other local organizations for review and approval, Marengo said. A timeline for submitting changes was not immediately available.

The PDO Committee reviews development applications in the parts of La Jolla regulated by the PDO. For projects requiring no discretionary permits (for example, building signs and facade renovations), the recommendations are forwarded to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification before submitting to the city. For projects requiring discretionary permits (e.g., coastal development and site development permits), the recommendations are forwarded to the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee for consideration.

The PDO Committee’s review is limited to whether an application conforms to the ordinance. The committee has 11 members: three appointed by the LJCPA, three by the La Jolla Town Council, three by the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and two by the Bird Rock Community Council.

The PDO Committee next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at a location to be determined. Learn more at ◆