Coalition pushes for Salk master plan revision

Opposition to Salk Institute’s proposed master-planned expansion adding 240,000 square feet of buildings to its coastal site has been re-energized by the Institute’s inclusion on the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites Watch List.

Recently, the Coalition To Save The Salk, a group of environmentalists, historic preservationists and community activists, gathered at La Jolla Glider Port overlooking the coastal bluff Salk Institute for Biological Studies intends to redevelop at 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, to hail news of the research institute’s inclusion on the Endangered Sites list, as well as to reaffirm their collective disapproval of Salk’s master-planned expansion as proposed.

“The new master plan threatens to permanently compromise the property’s prized architectural, historic and environmental values,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO), in a prepared statement. “This plan would obstruct views to and from the iconic Kahn laboratory buildings and the magnificent courtyard space.”

Courtney Coyle, the La Jolla environmental attorney who authored the appeal to have Salk placed on the Most Endangered Sites list, said the Coalition is saddened by the Institute’s continued resistance to “make the necessary changes to its new master plan to garner stakeholder support.”

“The (World Monuments) Fund over the last 40 years has helped save hundreds of endangered architectural and cultural sites on all seven continents and 59 countries with seven in the United States,” said Coyle at the press conference.

Coyle claims Salk’s master-planned expansion constitutes a threat to modernist properties like Salk. “Properties like the Salk continue to be misuderstood and underappreciated by local governments around the globe,” she said. “The 2008 watch list clearly shows human activity has become the greatest threat to all of the world’s cultural heritage.

“The message is clear, an independent panel of leading cultural heritage experts has reviewed the Salk master plan as proposed and rejected it in favor of a plan that would better preserve the cultural landscape, history and essence of this iconic place.”

To date, Coyle added 75 percent of World Mouments watch sites have been saved. “We hope regional, national and international attention will finally persuade Salk to reassess its plans,” she added.

Salk issued this statement regarding the Institute’s inclusion on the environmentally endangered list: “We were dismayed to learn that the World Monuments Fund chose to place the Salk Institute on its list of 100 Most Endangered Sites for 2008 without properly seeking the facts surrounding the Institute’s proposed Master Plan Update. The group’s statement on its Web site, which reports that the Master Plan Update would ‘partially obscure and thereby destroy the iconic view of the Pacific Ocean from the courtyard,’ is grossly erroneous and irresponsible.

“It has always been the intention of the Plan’s developers to preserve the iconic view and its natural environment as originally envisioned by Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn. To ensure this, the Salk Institute conducted computer simulations and ground surveys to confirm the view would not be impacted. In addition, the Institute held more than 70 meetings over the last two years with a variety of stakeholders, including environmental groups, neighbors, the design community and historic preservationists, to gather their input. A number of modifications were made to the Plan as a result of these efforts.”

Mauricio Minotta, Salk’s director of communications, noted the original master plan created by Jonas Salk and Louis Kahn included future development west of the courtyard and throughout the site. “The updated plan builds on their original intent to meet today’s scientific demands, while staying true to their vision,” said Minotta.

Founded in 1960 by Dr. Jonas Salk, five years after he developed the first safe and effective vaccine against polio, The Salk Institute has trained more than 2,000 scientists during the past 47 years, many of whom have gone on to positions of leadership in other prominent research centers worldwide. Five scientists trained at the Institute have won Nobel prizes, and three current resident faculty members are Nobel Laureates.

Discoveries made by Salk scientists have led to important advancements in diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and HIV/AIDS. The Institute’s scientists have also founded 21 companies based on their scientific discoveries, many in San Diego.

Salk’s long-term development plan is intended to serve as the independent, nonprofit organization’s blueprint for growth and development over the next 50 years. The master plan calls for facilities expansion to include increased space for laboratory-based scientific resesearch and shared core facilities, a daycare center for employees’ children and expanded space for administrative support, much of which is currently off-campus in rented space.

The Salk master plan proposes to add additional quality habitat to the adjacent environmental preserve. Salk insists its expansion plans will have no impact to evironmentally sensitive steep slopes in the area or to a nearby, off-site coastal canyon.

At their recent press conference, the Coalition To Save The Salk, which includes the Sierra Club and a grass-roots group, Friends of Rose Canyon, expressed concern over the Institute’s master plan’s proposal to subdivide the Salk site into four parcels. The coalition critized Salk’s proposed placement of a fitness and day care center on the Institute’s fragile southern mesa, as well as decrying its plans to build a 94,000-square-foot big box building on the east parking lot, which they claim would would obstruct the public’s view of the modernist Kahn Building from Torrey Pines Road.

Architectural consultant Jeffrey Shorn argued Salk’s current master-planned expansion is not in keeping with the intent of the site’s original builders. He stood before an overlay map depicting the differences between Salk’s expansion, as originally proposed, with the latest, updated version. “To claim this is the scheme Salk and Kahn came up with is absurd,” said Shorn. “The buildings effectively totally demolish views into the courtyard and the ocean.”

Shorn noted there is a synergy which exists between the site’s modernist design and the surrounding natural landscape. “It’s time maybe to go back to the original scheme,” he said.

Joanne Pearson, coastal committee chair of the Sierra Club, said Salk’s draft environmental impact report on its master-planned expansion fails to address a number of important environmental concerns, including the preservation of nearby vernal pools.

“Their propsoal would subdivide the Salk site into four parcels,” said Pearson. “Why? For what purpose? To sell?”

Pearson added master-planned developments such as Salk’s allow developers to build without the need for any further environmental review. “We can do better than what has been proposed by the city,” she concluded.