Council giving La Jollans a voice

Darcy Ashley, the president of the La Jolla Town Council, says her favorite thing about La Jolla is the people. Good thing she likes them - because that’s where she thinks the Town Council’s focus should be.

“One of the main roles of the Town Council is to provide another alternative for people to get information about what’s going on in the community,” said Ashley. “It’s another way for people to have a voice.”

John Beaver, a town council trustee, put it this way: “From seas to streets to events to issues concerning growth, the Town Council is the one place where a citizen can come and have a voice.”

Bringing it together

The idea isn’t a room full of opinionated bullhorns; unity has been a central pursuit from the beginning. The council was founded in 1950, when 37 community groups decided they’d be more effective together than apart.

The LJTC is unique among La Jolla’s community groups in its scope. Whereas the others take a more particular focus, the Town Council attempts to include the community as a whole. The council seeks to represent not only individuals, but resident-oriented businesses as well.

LJTC prides itself on not only representing, but protecting, longtime residents’ interests. The group has supported a number of issues near and dear to La Jollans, such as advocating the restoration of Children’s Pool as a safe wading area for youth.

The group has also unequivocally opposed a proposal to install paid, on-street parking in the downtown Village. It has also been dead-set against allowing three stories of housing development in two-story designated areas. Above all, the group maintains that any development, or redevelopment, should strictly conform with La Jolla’s Community Plan, its long-term blueprint for development.

Developer Mark Steele, a former chairman of the La Jolla Shores Association and former president of the council, has seen the benefits of community organizations.

“Having been on both sides, I think that the community benefits from good, honest discourse,” he said.

Sometimes messy

But he’s also seen their potential for messiness.

“My big frustration over the past 10 years has been when the process becomes personal and mean-spirited,” said Steele. “When I was more deeply involved, it seemed that people could disagree about something and walk away respecting each other. It seems like that sort of civility has left the process.”

Glen Rasmussen, another former LJTC president, has also seen the tension that can arise.

“The lack of cooperation is, frankly, boring,” he said, “and it’s hard to understand to residents and businesses on the outside trying to get things approved.”

However, Rasmussen still focuses on the productive capacities of discussion.

“Even if there’s not cooperation between groups, they’re in the trenches, volunteering their time, and the community interest is served by having controversy,” he said

Talking things out

Bob Collins, a long-time and current trustee, echoed Rasmussen’s overall view.

“The most important thing about the Town Council is the ability to bring the community together in times of major issues and get everyone together in a large hall and discuss it,” said Collins.

Most controversies aren’t resolved in dramatic debates, but as they are processed through the system. The full Town Council meets just once a month, so committees handle the majority of the nuts-and-bolts along the way.

As president, Ashley sees herself in many ways as an information broker. She stays informed about the committees, in order to adjust the Town Council’s focus. Though the LJTC has no official relationship with the city of San Diego, she acts as a liaison to the City Council, letting them know about her constituents’ feelings.

Gap with city

“That’s the ongoing joke,” said Ashley, “that we tell them what we think, and then they choose to listen to us on a random basis.”

And perhaps her primary role is keeping La Jollans informed.

“There is a gap between the city of San Diego and the people who have questions or need things,” said Ashley. “The range of calls we get in the office is huge, anything from asking about the real estate market to where to take mom out to dinner.”

The Town Council usually has between 500 and 600 members. The roughly $80,000 budget comes mostly from membership dues and is spent mostly on renting space for the office st 7734 Hershel Ave. and paying the part-time employee who staffs it.

Looking ahead, Ashley thinks that La Jolla will probably need to address cell phone tower construction and large, maximized developments. But fiscal concerns loom large.

“The thing La Jolla’s going to have to deal with the most is the effect of what has happened in our economy,” she said.