Can this relationship be saved?

Promote La Jolla says bad rep is undeserved

Like the recent parking issue that shook out proponents and opponents, Promote La Jolla (PLJ) also seems to have avid supporters and dissenters. But no matter who you ask, everyone agrees that strong community relations are a critical component of any successful organization.

A recent interview with PLJ President Deborah Marengo and executive director Tiffany Sherer shed some light on how they see community relations. By speaking candidly about the state of affairs in La Jolla, Marengo and Sherer hope to convey the real focus and purpose of PLJ.

“We’re always looking at the big picture,” said Marengo, adding that the committee’s primary task is to benefit the entire community, not just the interests of the business owners.

Promote La Jolla was formed in 1987 to serve the business community. Revenues are collected from district members through an assessment on each business license. There are nine different assessment rates based on the type of business and which zone it is located in. Fees range from $45 to $350, netting about $187,00 annually.

The organization also raises money through other means, a not unimportant accomplishment.

“Seventy cents of every dollar assessed is matched with private fund-raising,’ Sherer said.

Sherer said funds are used for a variety of projects including promotions, village beautification, economic development and administrative functions.

The first fees were assessed in 1992. Since that time there has been no increase or adjustment.

That has driven the organization to rely on the generosity of its members, said Marengo. Several of the 15 boardmembers contribute private funds or make cash donations for specific causes.

The significance of this action demonstrates not only a commitment on behalf of businessowners but also the effectiveness of the organization.

San Diego and La Jolla officials have turned to PLJ for help in paying for landscaping and other projects outside their jurisdiction, requests that PLJ tries to accommodate. Just recently, it was suggested that the organization offset expenses to beautify the Torrey Pines corridor.

The paid-parking issue is not the first time La Jollans have clashed with PLJ.

About four years ago, the organization worked to develop a public right-of-way for business to set up temporary signs and tables, like ice cream and coffee shops.

Despite providing findings from three communities that had already dealt with the issue and making numerous presentations, citizens continued to object.

“This has been going on for a long time with anything we do,” Marengo said, adding that the car show sponsored by PLJ also met with community disapproval.

Sherer believes that for some old-timers, there is a reluctance to change anything about the Village. However businesses must evolve if they are to remain viable.

“If you had the same store you had in 1980, you wouldn’t have any customers,” she said by way of comparison.

Given that many of PLJ’s board members also live in La Jolla, Sherer and Marengo said it is ridiculous to think any of them would make a decision detrimental to the community.

“If I didn’t think it was a good idea and it would hurt businessowners, we wouldn’t do it,” Sherer said.

Marengo doesn’t think communications have broken down; she feels they never really existed. As she sees it, people don’t come to meetings or participate until they have turf to protect.

That sense of ownership may partly explain the dissension between PLJ and residents. Homeowners and neighbors have a different vision for La Jolla, namely maintaining it as a quaint, seaside town, while business owners want and need economic stimulus.

“I don’t think any of us want to lose the quaintness or charm,” Marengo said, “but how do you update it and keep the infrastructure to support it?”

Not all La Jollans view the relationship with PLJ as negative. Joe LaCava, who has served on the Traffic and Transportation committee, the Planned Ordinance District, Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) and the Community Planning Association said he found the PLJ representatives to have a strong knowledge base, to be reliable and in sync with other community representatives.

“The BRCC has always enjoyed a good working relationship with PLJ,” LaCava said. “We have always looked to them as a friendly organization and a tremendous resource. I would hope that we can continue that very positive working relationship.”

He said there has been a renewed effort to enhance communication relations.

“The presidents of the five major community organizations have traditionally met quarterly with Scott Peters,” LaCava said. “Last month the five presidents agreed to start meeting monthly to talk about issues of common concern. I hope those meetings continue and focus on where are we are today and what we can achieve working together for La Jolla.”

Marengo agreed: “It would just be nice if the community could come together and work for some positive improvements.”