La Jolla News Nuggets: Tree removed, school arts funding, Restaurant Week, more

A palm tree was recently removed from this location on the La Jolla Recreation Center grounds following a weevil infestation.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Rec Center tree is removed after being infested by palm weevils

A palm tree on the La Jolla Recreation Center grounds was removed at the end of August after the city of San Diego confirmed it had been infested with the South American palm weevil.

The palm weevil — a type of beetle native to parts of Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean — has killed many trees in La Jolla in the past few years.

Several of the Canary Island date palm trees that typically stand tall, full and lush along the La Jolla coastline may be falling prey to the South American palm weevil, causing them to droop, turn brown and die.

Jan. 7, 2021

Signatures of a weevil infestation are drooping fronds and a collapsed or tilting crown that turns brown in an umbrella-like appearance, according to Mark Hoddle, a biological control specialist and principal investigator at the UC Riverside Department of Entomology.

Those hallmarks were visible on the Rec Center tree, which was beside the lawn that faces Draper Avenue and Prospect Street and the nearby bocce court.

San Diego plans to remove the tree after the city posted a caution sign about possible debris.

Aug. 18, 2023

Last month, city representatives said the tree was slated for removal, and it was taken down soon after.

San Diego Unified to get over $14 million in arts funding

The San Diego Unified School District is poised to get more than $14 million to help pay for arts programs.

Proposition 28, a ballot initiative that statewide voters approved in November, gives school districts a 1 percent boost in how much they receive under Proposition 98, which establishes a baseline for how much funding public schools receive.

San Diego Unified, which includes five public schools in La Jolla, is expected to get about $14.45 million as part of the allocation. Schools are to use the funding for arts programs, which can include music, dance, theater, visual arts and media arts. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego Restaurant Week to return with four La Jolla locations

George's at the Cove
George’s at the Cove will be one of four La Jolla locations offering lunch and dinner specials during San Diego Restaurant Week from Sept. 24 through Oct. 1.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

San Diego Restaurant Week will be back Sunday, Sept. 24, through Sunday, Oct. 1, with four La Jolla locations among the 100 throughout the county offering special prix-fixe pricing for lunch and dinner.

Beaumont’s in Bird Rock, George’s at the Cove and Piazza 1909 in The Village and The Shores Restaurant in La Jolla Shores are participating.

For more information, visit

Scripps Health tests new AI tool for physician-patient communications

Scripps Health is testing a pilot program using artificial intelligence to optimize doctors’ time, streamlining physician-patient communications and enabling clinicians to focus more on patient care while potentially reducing clinician burnout commonly associated with administrative tasks.

Physician responses to patient messages are generated through the use of a large language model (GPT models via Microsoft Azure OpenAI Services) that uses a simple query including the patient’s message, current medications and recent results, among other clinical data.

The AI tool crafts a draft reply that reads like natural language.

The AI tool is not designed to make diagnoses, predict or prescribe treatments or provide decision support. The AI-generated drafts must be reviewed by a medical provider for accuracy and appropriateness.

An April study led by UC San Diego researchers explored how AI compares with human expertise in the daily task of dashing off quick responses to routine medical questions. It indicated that chatbot ChatGPT answered routine questions more completely and with more empathy than busy human doctors.

Currently, one Scripps Health primary care location is involved in the initial pilot. The plan is to gradually roll out the feature to a broader range of health-care providers in coming months.

Scripps Research gets $1.5 million to expand wastewater virus-testing program

Scripps Research in La Jolla is receiving $1.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help other countries, many of them in Africa, use the wastewater testing methods it developed in San Diego to detect the COVID-19 coronavirus and a wide range of other harmful pathogens.

Computational biologist Joshua Levy, who works in the lab of Scripps researcher Kristian Andersen, recently returned from Nigeria and South Africa, where he has been working with local public health departments for about a year. He said the two-year Gates Foundation grant will help pay for adapting existing modeling tools to specific locations.

In Nigeria, for example, he said concern is more focused on threats such as malaria and Lassa fever that also can be detected by the trace genetic material that modern genetic sequencing can get out of wastewater samples.

In other cases, he added, there may not be formalized wastewater treatment plants to collect samples from, so it has been necessary to work with some nations on how to collect and analyze water taken from rivers and streams.

Expanded efforts will look for measles, rubella, seasonal and avian influenza, and hepatitis A and E.

In San Diego County, wastewater analysis revolutionized tracking of the coronavirus pandemic, spotting the first Omicron surge in late 2021. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

UC San Diego’s Alpha Phi Omega seeks families for Operation Santa

Members of Alpha Phi Omega at UC San Diego in La Jolla are seeking families for its Operation Santa project, which aims to help underprivileged families in San Diego during the holidays with basic necessities and children’s gifts.

The Operation Santa committee is seeking nominations for families in need of help, as well as those willing to “adopt” a family to provide goods.

The deadline to nominate a family is Tuesday, Oct. 31. The committee then will decide which families to help based on need and funds available and will solicit wish lists.

For more information, visit or email

San Diego pension debt to go back over $3 billion

San Diego’s pension debt will rise above $3 billion again following a new analysis showing sharper-than-expected increases in future years to the salaries of city workers and to payouts for retirees.

The rise in debt is expected to increase the city’s annual pension payment by just over $20 million per year, leaving city officials with less money to spend on libraries, parks, police officers, firefighters, lifeguards and other services.

The city’s pension board unanimously decided Sept. 8 to raise the pension system’s long-term expectations for annual salary increases from 3.05 percent to 3.25 percent. The board also raised the system’s long-term expectation for annual retiree payout increases, which are based on inflation, from 1.9 percent to 2 percent.

Those changes, combined with some smaller adjustments, will increase the city’s pension debt by $194 million. The debt was calculated at $2.84 billion last winter, so the new increase will bring it to $3.03 billion.

The pension debt surpassed $3 billion for the first time in January 2020 and climbed to $3.34 billion in January 2021. It has decreased two years in a row since then, but last week’s vote by the pension board will push it back above $3 billion. — The San Diego Union-Tribune

Salk scientists look at ways to slow ‘super-enhancer’ for pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancers are considered among the most aggressive, deadly types, and for years, researchers have struggled to develop effective drugs against the tumors. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla say they recently identified a new set of molecules that fuel the growth of tumors in the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

The new research, published Sept. 6 in Nature Communications, explains how certain gene mutations trigger out-of-control growth in pancreatic cancer by activating a “super-enhancer” that turns on other genes. It also indicates effectiveness of a new drug that puts the brakes on pancreatic cancer growth by blocking the effects of the super-enhancer.

The researchers demonstrated that, by deleting the super-enhancer or a gene known as hnRNPF in the cell lines, they could slow the growth of pancreatic cancer cells by more than 80 percent.

They also found that an experimental drug targeting one of the proteins impacted by hnRNPF activation could stop the growth of isolated pancreatic tumors in the lab and the growth of pancreatic tumors in mice.

Scientists say more work is needed to discover whether drugs targeting the super-enhancer or related molecules might be useful for treating pancreatic cancer in patients.

Scripps Research examines insomnia treatment in preventing opioid relapse

A good night’s sleep has many proven health benefits, and a new study by Scripps Research in La Jolla suggests one more: preventing opioid relapse.

Researchers know that opioid withdrawal — which can last for days in people who are dependent on the drug — can include symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, chills, pain, anxiety and insomnia.

In a study published online in Neuropharmacology on Aug. 12, scientists gave an experimental insomnia treatment to rats experiencing oxycodone withdrawal. The researchers found the animals were much less likely to seek out drugs again, even after ending the treatment.

During a 14-day withdrawal period from oxycodone, opioid-dependent rats showed expected withdrawal symptoms, including disturbed circadian rhythms like those seen in insomnia, marked by an increase in activity, eating and drinking during their usual sleeping hours.

However, rats given an experimental insomnia drug known as DORA-12 — which is like the FDA-approved drug Belsomra (suvorexant) — during the withdrawal period showed patterns of behavior and physiological activities more like animals not dependent on opioids.

In addition, the rats treated with DORA-12 did not show repeated drug-seeking behavior. Signs of opioid addiction in the brain also were reversed by DORA-12, and the effect persisted even if the treatment had not been given for days.

The findings eventually could lead to therapies to help prevent opioid addiction or relapse in humans, researchers said.

— Compiled by La Jolla Light staff