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Engineer creating map of an independent city of La Jolla

The citizens group Independent La Jolla has hired an engineer to design the maps, which are the next step in a multi-year process that was reinvigorated last year by a fiscal analysis that found that an independent city of La Jolla could enjoy a surplus of funds in its first year.

The 28-member Independent La Jolla coalition contends on its Web site that a separate city would enjoy enhanced services and more efficient handling of community projects. They say San Diego has grown too big and La Jolla would be better off on its own, citing successful municipalities in San Diego County including Del Mar, Solana Beach and Coronado as examples.

The group raised $30,000 and put the money toward an initial fiscal analysis to determine if an independent La Jolla would be economically feasible. The analysis, done by consulting firm Economic and Planning Systems, was completed in March 2005 and broke down estimated revenues from sources including property, sales and hotel taxes, and estimated expenditures including public safety services, construction and maintenance.

Using figures provided by the city of San Diego, the authors of the report found that a city of La Jolla, if formed, could bring in more than $39 million in revenue in fiscal year 2007-2008, against about $34 million in expenditures. The analysis looked at all the territory within the 92037 ZIP code.

The ZIP code is also being used as the primary guideline for the next step in the incorporation process - mapping. Engineer Eugene Cook of E.F. Cook and Associates has been working on designing the maps of the proposed city of La Jolla for about six weeks, and said they should be complete within the next two weeks.

The maps will be submitted to and reviewed by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees the incorporation process. If they approve the maps, the next step in the process would be a petition drive within La Jolla to determine if residents are interested in secession. Signatures from a minimum of a quarter of La Jollans would be required, which would be more than 10,000 signatures.

If the petition drive were successful, the Local Agency Formation Commission would conduct a more in-depth fiscal review of the proposed city that would determine if La Jolla would have to compensate San Diego for any adverse efffect on revenue that the secession would have, and how much that payment might be. The initial fiscal analysis found that the incorporation of La Jolla would cost San Diego more than $4.5 million and that La Jolla could afford to pay the amount back to the city.

Independent La Jolla board member Melinda Merryweather said the revenue mitigation payment is subject to negotiation and that La Jolla may have to pay the alimony for four to eight years.

Finally, a simple majority of voters throughout San Diego would have to approve the incorporation, at which point the city of San Diego could not stop La Jolla from breaking off.

The maps Cook has nearly completed are the next step in the process. Merryweather said the Local Agency Formation Commission will review the maps with a main purpose of ensuring that public safety services could be sensibly divided between the new city and the rest of San Diego.

“If you’re going up Torrey Pines Road from the university to the golf course, the ocean side is La Jolla and the other side is University City,” Merryweather said. “They will not let a boundary split a road like that when you’re defined as a city. The reason being that if you’re in a car accident and get knocked from the left hand side to the right, whose police department do you call? Whose fire department do you call? We have to make sure the boundaries make sense for safety reasons.”

Cook said the main challenge in designing the boundaries of the proposed city is in the northeastern boundary, in the area east of Interstate 5 that includes Scripps Hospital. Cook has been using the 92037 ZIP code as a guide, and the Scripps Hospital area is included in that ZIP code. The problem is that the Scripps Hospital area is the only thing east of Interstate 5 that lies within 92037, and there is no obvious boundary east of Interstate 5, Cook said.

“We can’t figure out where to stop,” Cook said. “If you go east of the 5, how much of the east side do you take in? We have a problem of where to draw the lines. We might have to take all the country up there or none of it.”

Cook said he would have the maps completed within the next few weeks and then would meet with the Independent La Jolla board before submitting them to the Local Agency Formation Commission. Merryweather said the commission could take between six and eight months to review the maps.

For more information, visit www.independentlajolla.com.