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La Jolla CPA: Planning runs through it

BY MATTHEW GILSON

Contributor

No one would accuse the La Jolla Community Planning Association of being too flashy.

The group meets on the first Thursday of every month at the La Jolla Recreation Center. There are usually about 40 attendees, plus 18 trustees. One microphone is shuffled from speaker to speaker.

And the main topic of discussion: land use.

“It’s more fun to do a Christmas parade or other things than land-use issues,” CPA President Joe LaCava said. However, “the charge the city gives to us is to be the official voice on land-use issues.”

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The CPA is not glitzy. It’s not glamorous. And sometimes it’s not very exciting.

But it gets things done.

‘The’ authority

“Anything in La Jolla ultimately goes through the CPA,” recent Trustee Lance Peto said.

The CPA is the only community group in La Jolla with any official authority. But this certainly isn’t a case of “money is power” - the budget comes entirely from a box passed around at meetings (2008 average monthly income: $137; expenses: $119). The group’s authority comes from the city of San Diego, but how much it really has isn’t completely clear.

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But no power

“The CPA is an advisory group to the city,” Trustee Tim Lucas said. “It really doesn’t hold any true political power.”

Ray Weiss, another trustee, agrees.

“The biggest things that happen in our city are really controlled by the City Council or the mayor’s office,” he said. “We pay the price for having representative democracy and not true democracy.”

LaCava believes that the CPA can make a genuine impact - and he sees unity as the organization’s biggest asset.

“The CPA is almost quasi-governmental. Anyone can express their concerns or opinions to the City Council, but a single voice comes from the CPA,” he said. “La Jolla needs to be more united against the challenges from City Hall.”

Facing the issues

Recent issues that have strained that unity include third-story limits, the proposed Bird Rock Station, paid parking and traffic congestion. The CPA’s stance on each of these topics has not always remained static.

“There have been times when the CPA has been really polarized,” architect and Trustee Tony Crisafi said. “People were defined as anti-development or development.”

Treasurer Jim Fitzgerald, who became involved in part because he believed that developmental concerns had too much sway, has seen a shift during his time on the board.

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“We have, in my opinion, a pretty broad-based level of community representation,” he said.

Key is balance

Fitzgerald noted the importance of balance.

“I think there’s a certain healthy level of development,” he said. “We’re trying to retain the village atmosphere of La Jolla and at the same time trying to maintain a modern city that is accommodating not only to the people who live and work here, but to people who visit here as well.”

While none of the biggest issues are currently inflamed, there are plenty still smoldering. Bird Rock Station is still in process. And as every car-bound surfer or shopper knows, traffic and parking problems will always resurface.

The CPA also has a recurring problem interfacing with the city’s Development Services Department, which enforces building codes governing housing development.

Some on the board as well as some residents say the city is often lax in adhering to the letter of the law and that too many projects are getting “passed through” without proper community review.

‘Something’s broken’

“About 75 percent of all building permits last year were exemptions in La Jolla,” Crisafi said. “The system isn’t working. Long-range planners don’t necessarily review projects when they come in for building permits. There’s real friction when exemptions are allowed on projects that should have come under discretionary review.”

LaCava’s goal is to solidify the CPA’s role in addressing those challenges in the future.

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“I hope people have enough confidence in the CPA to let it be the sole voice on land use,” he said.

Part of that means maintaining broad community representation. As LaCava put it: “So that when we say this is the voice of La Jolla, it’s true.”