Bird Rock merchants ask city for a holiday moratorium

Many Bird Rock merchants want a holiday moratorium on sewer construction work that has torn up their La Jolla Boulevard commercial strip and diminished foot traffic for some businesses.

That request was made Oct. 10 by merchants to Darlene Smith of Hard Hat Communications, the liaison between Bird Rock and the city of San Diego, which is performing sewer work as a prelude to constructing three more roundabout traffic circles to complete long-range traffic calming in the community.

There has been some misunderstanding as to if - and when - a holiday moratorium is provided for in the construction contract.

“The contractor was telling me there is no moratorium, and they’re going to work straight through,” said Chuck Patton, Bird Rock Community Council president, at the Oct. 10 meeting. “We’re not all on the same page.”

Bird Rock Community Councilmember Joe La Cava said a holiday moratorium is provided for in the contract bid on by contractors. “As I understand it, it is a two-week period,” La Cava said. “The last day of work was to be Dec. 14, and the first day of work was to be Jan. 5.”

A couple of Bird Rock merchants at the meeting reacted negatively to the timing of a moratorium that includes time after Christmas and New Year’s, noting time prior to Christmas is critical for holiday sales.

“On behalf of the entire project team, we’re concerned about the businesses and residents,” Smith told merchants, “taking into consideration that this is the livelihood of people. We’re going to continue to do our utmost to find ways to lessen the burden on businesses, and still get the project done quickly and efficiently. There are things the team is working on to try to mitigate some of the concerns that have been raised.”

Jerry Klein, owner of A Better Deal Tuxedo Shop, came to the meeting with a proxy list of 30 Bird Rock businesses who favor a holiday moratorium. Klein was dismayed contractors themselves weren’t present to meet with merchants. “They’re not here tonight,” he said. “Everything is vague. We don’t have any assurances from anybody about deadlines, dates or when it’s going to be completed. This is a destination area. Anybody who’s coming here from out of town does not want even to approach this area. This is a war zone.”

“It’s not as bad as we thought it was going to be,” said Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters at 5627 La Jolla Blvd., about construction impacts. “For the others (merchants), it really depends on where they are on the boulevard. Jerry (Klein) is impacted a lot more because they’re working right at that intersection (Bird Rock Avenue).”

Some merchants are concerned that adding a holiday work moratorium could cause completion of the project to be extended into next summer.

“It (moratorium) makes sense as long as they can shoot for the shortest overall construction time,” Patton said. “But a moratorium won’t be good if people aren’t able to park, or there’s equipment all over the place. The main issue is whether the moratorium is going to start earlier, rather than later, in December, which (earlier) makes a lot of sense.”

Some Bird Rock merchants said their business has been hit a lot harder than Patton’s by construction work. “My business is down about 50 percent,” said Anita Wood. of La Jolla Mailbox Rentals at 5666 La Jolla Blvd.

Wood’s mail-service business, which includes a lot of deliveries, is typically consistent this time of year. “December is busy,” she added, “which is why we need a couple weeks (moratorium) before Christmas. It’s not going to help after that.”

Wood attributed part of the decline in foot traffic to the unsightliness of construction activity. “A lot of them (clients) don’t even want to come down here,” she said. “If people have mail here, they have to come here. But people that are shipping things, they can go somewhere else.”

This is the second go-round with construction activity in Bird Rock for Raffo de la Barrera, owner of Lupi Vino Cucina at 5518 La Jolla Blvd. He’s frustrated by the duration of construction which he says is unquestionably hurting his business. “I’m about 2 1/2 years behind on my business plan,” he said. “This (construction) project started in August of ’03 and here we are in Oct. ’07 and we’re still not finished. It’s kind of frustrating when you’re talking about the same things time and time again after four years.”

One of the problems with disrupting business, concluded Berrera, is shopping habit patterns with customers are changed. “It’s a mind set,” he said. “Once people get the mind set that it’s a headache to go somewhere, it takes a long time for people to get out of that mind set.”

Flow Boutique at 5631 La Jolla Blvd. is typical of the small-businesses in the commercial district that are largely dependent on foot traffic for their success - or failure. Luis Villaverde and Ana Cristina Silva own the business. They also live in the neighborhood nearby.

“It’s a little chaotic right now,” admitted Villaverde. “Since construction started, our sales have diminished due to lack of foot traffic. It’s very difficult for people to stop in traffic and park parallel. The situation is adverse for us. It’s really going to affect our business for the next two months. We’re depending on our clients to help us through this difficult moment.”

Barrera of Lupi Vino Cucina spoke for all Bird Rock merchants in concluding: “You just work, plough ahead, and hope for the best.”

Darlene Smith of Hard Hat Communications has issued answers to several Bird Rock merchant’s questions fielded at the Oct. 10 meeting.

Q: During the moratorium, will the equipment, dirt piles, etc. be completely removed or will they be left with equipment etc. in the area taking up space along the Boulevard?

A: “Typically contractors utilize equipment elsewhere during moratoriums, so we suspect that West Coast General will consolidate its equipment during the moratorium.”

Q: Will construction of the sewer project be complete when the moratorium begins?

A: “The sewer work should be completed before the moratorium currently slated for Dec. 17 - Jan. 1.

Q: Which roundabout will they start with?

A: “The first phase of roundabouts would start at the northernmost intersection, Camino de la Costa and La Jolla Boulevard.”

Q: When will installation of the sewer main end and how long will the laterals take?

A: “The east side laterals are tentatively slated for installation during the first part of November and end around Nov. 23.”

Q: Will having a moratorium extend the completion date? If so, by how long?

A: “Yes, that will extend the aforementioned completion date by 10 working days (the length of the moratorium).

Q: When will the entire project end?

A: “Tentative end date of the entire project as listed on the contractor’s schedule is June 18. This is tentative and subject to change.”