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Fisheries building said to aid parking, leave views

A plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to build a new research complex across La Jolla Shores Drive from its existing facility atop a 180-foot-high coastal bluff has local residents concerned about ocean views being obstructed and parking problems being worsened in nearby neighborhoods.

But not to worry, say local UCSD and NMFS officials, such fears are unfounded.

“Our designers are working to make sure no view planes coming down that hill are disturbed: It will not block any of the views,” said Bill Fox, director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center headquarters in La Jolla. Fox added the new research complex’s roof will even be painted green so it won’t “look like a building and (will) fit into the landscape.”

Concerning the new proposed fishery facility’s overall impact on area parking, Fox said it will have the reverse effect people expect. “Parking is a real issue with us and we’ve insisted on having at least two or three levels of parking in the (new) building,” said Fox. “Right now we have virtually no parking at all, only about 20 spaces, and people have been parking up and down the hill and in residential neighborhoods since 1964. This building will be able to resolve the parking problem.”

Built in 1964, the NMFS’s existing headquarters building site is threatened by natural cliff erosion, which is why two of the site’s four existing buildings are to be abandoned and demolished and why a new replacement facility nearby is being contemplated. “The bluff has eroded much more quickly than estimated,” noted Fox. “We’re now about 20 feet on one corner from being at the bluff edge, when the standard is to be 60 feet or more away.”

Part of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s mission is to conduct scientific research on fisheries management issues, which, among other things, direct the operations of about 6,000 fishing vessels along the West Coast and provide scientific input on marine species such as dolphins, tuna and salmon, as well as supporting recovery programs for threatened species such as the U.S. Pacific sea turtle.

Plans to replace the existing fisheries facility at Scripps Institution of Oceanography were unveiled by Milt Phegley of UCSD and fisheries officials at the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA’s) January meeting. Fisheries is proposing constructing a new 120,000-square-foot headquarters on a 2.3-acre UCSD campus site across from its existing facilities at an estimated $104.5 million cost. The new facility would house 300 employees and be in operation by 2012.

“The project right now is in the initial design stage and the environmental review phase,” said Phegley. “The proposed facility would be about 25 percent larger than the existing complex. Because it is a joint federal-state project, it is required that an environmental impact statement and environmental report be prepared. As we move forward in this environmental review process, there will be a public comment period.”

“My concern is that road has always been a view corridor to the ocean,” noted longtime La Jollan Melinda Merryweather at the January CPA meeting. “Coming down that hill, it’s the first thing you see, the beauty of La Jolla. Are you going to be putting this building a story high? What are you going to do to address that need?”

“The architects are designing it (new building) such that it is sloped up the terrain so that the view corridors from the roadway and the pedestrian walkways are not obstructed, particularly to ocean views,” replied fisheries spokesman John Chamberlain.

“How can you do that without putting this thing underground?” questioned Merryweather, adding, “The university always comes here and says, ‘We’re going to show you what we’ve got.’ But they never really want our opinion. They’re just telling us what they’re doing.”

“Will there be off-street parking on-campus so employees are not parking in the neighborhoods,” asked La Jolla Town Councilman Ed Ward.

Ward was told there would be at least 150 off-street parking spaces, with the potential for 50 spaces more, provided by the new fisheries’ headquarters. He was told some of the employees may also continue to park on-campus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography as they do now.

Ward cautioned that parking is a touchy issue everywhere in La Jolla. “I’m sure you’re aware of the off-street and paid-parking issues,” he said. “If you don’t accommodate off-street parking on that campus with this new facility, you may well see La Jollans protesting on your campus.”

“I appreciate there’s going to be an improvement in parking, at least for NOAA,” said CPA trustee Rob Whittemore. “But I think NOAA should provide 100 percent of their parking for employees. We’ve got one chance here to get it right for the next 50, 75 years. I think everyone in this room would agree that the fisheries people should provide off-street parking for all their employees, however many there are.”