La Jolla merchants set up working groups to form new nonprofit

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

The process to re-engage La Jolla merchants in forming a new nonprofit group to improve the Village business district is moving forward with volunteers stepping up on Thursday to serve on four committees.

Nearly 30 La Jolla merchants and business people as well as some residents turned out for the meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center to discuss a timetable for creating a new nonprofit group to represent them, before breaking up into committees to discuss bylaws, branding, legal matters and a tentative budget for the new entity. The group will also seek volunteers to run for the board, which will be done by secret ballot in a city-supervised election.

After the meeting, Mike McLaughlin, a consultant hired by the city to facilitate the process, said he was thrilled by the turnout and “energy” of those attending.

“It’s a great group of new folks, old folks, established businesses,” he said. “They’re really anxious to get moving.”

Noting all the merchants were respectful and open to one another’s views, McLaughlin added, “I think we had a good first step.”

The new group will seek a contract with the city of San Diego to operate the La Jolla Business Improvement District, a geographic area formerly represented by Promote La Jolla (PLJ), which includes approximately 1,200 businesses in La Jolla Village and is funded by fees paid on business tax bills. Although all of the steps may not be completed by then, McLaughlin said if they are united and acting towards formalizing a group by the middle of 2011, the city will consider their proposal.

PLJ, while still holding board meetings, has been without funds since early 2009 when the city failed to renew its contract following a city auditor’s 2009 report that outlined “alleged accounting irregularities and possible misuse of city funds.” A settlement was signed recently that resolved the parties of any civil liability and resulted in the group’s insurance carrier paying about $90,000 back to the city. Meanwhile, the city’s Office of Small Business has been handling affairs of the business district, with advice from four former PLJ directors.

Billed as “La Jolla Businesses Unite,” the process was initiated by First District City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner in October at a public workshop. Since then, merchants have been meeting informally at weekly morning coffees led by McLaughlin. Lightner, who came in part way through Thursday’s meeting, congratulated the group and urged them to keep the effort moving forward.

Nancy Warwick of Warwick’s Bookstore, a former PLJ board member, said she has been impressed thus far with merchants’ second attempt at banding together to market La Jolla as a regional shopping destination.

“It’s a lot of new people, a lot of interested people willing to put in time and who have a lot of background,” Warwick said. She added the newly forming group is benefiting from mentors like Patrick Edwards, president of the BIDC (Business Improvement District Council) that represents 16 existing business districts.”

“I’m excited, optimistic,” she said. “I just see a whole other chapter with La Jolla (business improvement).”

Warwick said the bylaws committee she sat in on during its break-out session on Dec. 2 discussed what can and can’t be changed — what businesses are included and the (tax) assessment levels. “Those are going to stay the same,” she noted.

Realtor Claudette Berwin led an informal group discussion for the newly forming “identity” committee. During that discussion, participants considered a proposal to name the group the “La Jolla Village Merchants Association.”

Financial adviser John Weinstein, another who volunteered to serve on the naming committe, said it’s important to keep La Jolla in a new name.

“La Jolla’s such a good franchise, you don’t want to leave that out,” he said.

Phill Coller, owner of Everett Stunz furniture, led the group’s budget committee whose members asked numerous questions about things such as the group’s ability to hold special fundraising events and costs of beautification projects.

The new group’s various committees are meeting regularly at local venues. They hope to come together in January to solidify their plans.

For information on the time and place of those meetings, e-mail