La Jolla planning group hopes for smoother trustee election this year

Fourteen candidates vying for seven open seats on board of directors

Editing Note: The original version of this story stated that Michael Morton ran as a write-in candidate during last year's annual election. In fact, he was on the ballot.

All eyes will be on next month’s annual election of the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA) board of directors, given the controversy that erupted after its 2014 election.

A shortage of candidates last year — with four people running for seven open seats — led to nearly 10 months of debate over who was rightly elected, and the threat of the LJCPA losing its legal indemnification and status as La Jolla’s officially recognized advisory group to the city on land-use matters.

An election challenge filed last year by the “La Jolla Association” — founded by La Jolla Shores resident Bob Whitney to ensure the city and the LJCPA provide “credible representation” and respect La Jollans’ “individual property rights” — argued that LJCPA trustees should have formed an election committee no later than the first week of January 2014 to adequately publicize board vacancies and recruit a sufficient number of candidates. The absence of an election committee early on, the challenge contended, allowed two termed-out trustees to run for additional, concurrent terms.

Current LJCPA President Joe LaCava, one of the termed-out trustees who ran for a third term last year (and was elected by a majority of voters), noted that to assure an abundance of candidates for this year’s election a committee was formed in November. To avoid further problems, City Council President and LJCPA general member Sherri Lightner (of La Jolla) has also promised better oversight of next month’s election.

During the LJCPA’s meeting Feb. 5 at La Jolla Rec Center, 14 candidates running for seven open seats announced their candidacy either in person or by notifying LJCPA Election Committee Chair Cindy Greatrex.

Who’s Who

Most notable among this year’s crop of candidates is architect Michael Morton, who ran for a seat on the LJCPA board last year, but received the fewest votes and was not elected.

The city later opined that, as a new candidate, Morton should have received priority over the termed-out trustees and been elected. The LJCPA declined to follow the city’s strongly-worded advice to seat Morton, leading the city to threaten the LJCPA with decertification.

A compromise with the city was eventually struck and the LJCPA voted to amend its bylaws to allow Morton to fill the five remaining months of the seat he was vying for in March 2014. Morton refused to accept the truncated term, joining Whitney in filing suit against the city on Dec. 5. 2014 (the suit is ongoing).

Speaking during this month’s meeting, Morton said he shares “common ground” with many LJCPA members, although parts company with trustees when it comes to his belief in personal property rights. He also said floor-area ratios (FARs) established for residential neighborhoods elsewhere in La Jolla and in San Diego should not be imposed on La Jolla Shores.

FARs are defined as the ratio of a size of a structure relative to the size of its lot, and used to control density in residential and commercial development.

Morton’s partner in La Jolla-based Marengo Morton Architects, Claude-Anthony Marengo, is also seeking a seat on the LJCPA board. Marengo currently serves as president of La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) and previously served on several other LJCPA subcommittees.

“I feel like I can handle another task and would really like to come back and assist the group again,” said Marengo, a La Jolla resident of about 45 years.

La Jolla Shores resident Rob Whittemore, who has a longstanding property dispute with Marengo Morton Architects and is an advocate of establishing floor-area ratios for the Shores, was elected to the LJCPA board last year, although he resigned Oct. 29 over the LJCPA’s vote to offer Morton the five-month seat. Whittemore said several people have since asked him to run again. (Six of the open seats are standard three-year terms and the seventh is a two-year term created when Whittemore stepped down).

A piano teacher and resident of 30 years, Sary Frymann said she owns eight cottages on Exchange Place and wants to retain La Jolla’s “old ambiance” and keep development density low.

Glen Rasmussen, an attorney working in land-use and property-related disputes, previously served on the LJCPA and was elected to the Village Merchants Association board last fall. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to sit where these ladies and gentlemen are sitting,” said Rasmussen, a resident of 40 years. “It’s something to be taken seriously, because this board is the outlet for local input on a number of projects.”

Tom Brady, who termed-out from the LJCPA board last year, is seeking another term after a one-year board hiatus required per the LJCPA’s bylaws. He currently serves on La Jolla’s Traffic & Transportation and Coastal Access Parking boards.

Born and raised in La Jolla, architect Brian Will, who currently serves on the LJCPA’s Development Permit Review subcommittee, said he wants to assure that development, although inevitable, is “still sensitive to the history here in La Jolla.”

LJCPA trustee Janie Emerson, running for a second term, also serves on the La Jolla Shores Association and La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee. She said she moved to La Jolla with her family in 1961 “when it was a cute little Village.” “It’s changed in many ways — some good and some bad,” Emerson said, noting that her father helped craft the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance, or blueprint for development.

Retired businessman Ed Comartin, a frequent contributor to the dialogue at LJCPA and subcommittee meetings, said he decided to run after hearing the other candidates speak.

“One of the concerns I have is the diversity on this board,” Comartin said. “We have a lot of people who have vested interests in the community, whether it’s architects or … people who represent people trying to do different things architecturally in the community. I think we need more people from the community itself that live here.”

Former LJCPA treasurer Jim Fitzgerald, a 25-year resident and the other termed-out trustee re-elected last year by a wide margin, stepped down after last year’s election to allow his seat to go to a first-time candidate. Fitzgerald is running again after his required one-year hiatus from the board. “I’m hoping that my record during my years as a trustee was one of fairness and integrity,” he said. “I’d like the privilege of serving on this board again.”

Also on the ballot next month is current trustee Cynthia Bond (who is Whittemore’s fiancée), La Jolla Shores Association and La Jolla Permit Review Committee member Dolores Donovan, La Jolla Town Council president Steve Haskins and former LJCPA trustee David Little.

Candidate statements can be found at the LJCPA’s website, lajollacpa.org

Per LJCPA bylaws, write-ins candidates are allowed the day of the election, during the group’s next monthly meeting, 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.

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