La Jolla Christmas Parade Debate: Community Planning Association OKs event’s street closures following rebuke of faith-based name

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) approved street closures for the La Jolla Christmas Parade and Holiday Festival during its Sept. 4 meeting — but not before several trustees criticized event organizers for not following the example of other December events in San Diego County, the names for which have been changed to replace the word “Christmas” with “holiday” (or something that does not reference a particular religion).

Name change proponents were handed an unexpected feather in their cap during the meeting when San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten, who attended, urged LJCPA trustees to deny the street closures until a more inclusive name is determined.

Marten noted that the names of most district-wide school performances have been changed from “Christmas” to “holiday” out of respect for non-Christian students.

A former La Jolla Country Day School student, Marten suggested that students in the district could help come up with an alternative name as part of the “critical discourse” encouraged by the Common Core State Standards initiative.

Many schools have marching bands and color guards that participate in the parade, including Standley Middle School in UTC. La Jolla High School added its own marching-band program this fall.

Although speaking as a private citizen, Marten cautioned, “I will consider going to my board in the future and making recommendations for whether or not it’s appropriate for our schools to be participating in parades that have names that are not as inclusive as we might like.”

La Jolla Shores Association board Chair Tim Lucas, who attended the meeting, cautioned several times that the LJCPA agenda only noticed the closure of Girard Avenue and several side streets for discussion. “Everything else is off-topic” and “beyond our scope,” Lucas said, adding, “Your agenda noticing is defective if you consider name changes and all these political opinions.”

Trustee Janie Emerson said she is “sympathetic to a discussion of the name,” though was ultimately “uncomfortable voting on a motion that includes things not on the agenda.”

LJCPA’s Traffic & Transportation (T&T) subcommittee unanimously approved street closures and detour plans for the annual parade — set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7 — during the group’s July meeting (closures are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

LJCPA trustee Fran Zimmerman, who pulled the item from the LJCPA’s August consent agenda, noted that The Washington Post will no longer use the racially insensitive term “Redskins” when referring to its local NFL team in editorials. “The United Nations has asked The Netherlands to please rethink its centuries-old Christmas tradition of Black Peter, Santa Claus’s right-hand man, in Holland,” she said, noting the feeling of many that the icon perpetuates racist stereotypes. “I’m not a big advocate of times changing, but I can tell you they have,” she said.

Lead name-change proponent Howard Singer, of the San Diego County Diversity and Inclusiveness Group, noted that the names of similar parades around the county have been changed to faith-neutral names.

Trustee Ray Weiss said as a trustee of the La Jolla Town Council — which oversaw the parade until organizers broke off to form their own nonprofit 501(c)3 organization for tax purposes — he had long been opposed to the name. Nevertheless, Weiss said he was conflicted about whether to vote for the street closures.

Although he approves of closing Kline Street for Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church’s annual “So Fine on Kline” Fall Festival — a religious event on a public street — he said the La Jolla Christmas Parade is larger in scale, and plays a more significant role in the community.

“I was shamed by Ms. Marten — what she said about considering not having schools participate in this process because (the name) is not inclusive,” Weiss said. “It made me think about places in the world where people don’t have inclusiveness. This shouldn’t be one of them, and I am really torn because one of my principles says it’s a Traffic & Transportation issue and has nothing to do with the questions being raised, but the questions being raised are part of the fabric of our society.”

Longtime parade organizer Ann Kerr Bache has consistently refused to meet with name-change proponents — as recommended last year by the City of San Diego’s Human Relations Commission — or to discuss the matter with La Jolla Light.

Warren Heenan, who handles crowd control and equestrian contingents for the parade, attended the meeting to answer questions, noting that the parade does not exclude anyone from participating, regardless of religious affiliation.

The parade is largely funded by private dollars, and does not receive any money from the city.

However, Weiss said he was uncomfortable with parade organizers’ refusal to even have a conversation about the name. “The people who are organizing (the parade) … are doing a community service but they are being intransigent about this question,” he said. “Something has to be done.”

Trustee Rob Whittemore favored denying the street closures to send a message to event organizers. “We have a private organization using a public facility and about the only way we have any leverage to get the organization to sort of come (in line) with the modern times and become more politically correct … is by denying the street closures,” he said.

Trustee Dan Courtney countered that the LJCPA should not be used as a “tool” for Singer and his group to “pursue their agenda.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate, and personally, I think it’s really sad that it’s come to this,” Courteny said. “The Christmas Parade is a great thing. It makes everybody happy and it should not be attacked like this.”

In the end, a motion by Zimmerman to deny the street closures failed. A separate motion by LJCPA Vice-President Bob Steck to approve the closures passed, with trustees Whittemore, Zimmerman, Weiss, Robert Mapes and Helen Boyden in opposition.

In July, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association voted to ask that La Jolla Christmas Parade organizers change the name to one that does not reference a particular religion.