La Jolla Planners: It’s a go for La Valencia’s new sidewalk café

By Pat Sherman

During its Dec. 5 meeting, the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) went against the advice of its subcommittee, the La Jolla Development Permit Review (DPR) Committee — voting to approve plans for a sidewalk café to accompany the new Café La Rue at La Valencia Hotel.

The Planned District Ordinance (PDO) subcommittee unanimously approved the plans in October, though DPR members rejected the plans in November, after the hoteliers made revisions based on the group’s input. The DPR vote was split, 3-3; its chair, Paul Benton, cast the determining vote against the project.

Representing Pacifica Companies, which owns the hotel, Carey Algaze noted that the hotel reduced the number of outdoor seats from 18 to 12 and will move a mature palm tree in front of the café closer to the hotel’s entrance so that the pedestrian path (sidewalk) can be expanded to more than eight feet in width (DPR members felt the original path, less than five feet in some areas, was too narrow).

In addition, an emergency gate in the café’s three-foot tall, white, wrought-iron fence that previously swung outward into the pedestrian path has been replaced with a four-foot gap, Algaze said.

Though the DPR committee recommended that the hotel repave the entire sidewalk in front of the cafe to eliminate issues with slope, Algaze said the suggestion was determined unfeasible, “because the transition back to the hotel entrance would be too steep and would not be accepted by the city engineers.”

However, based on feedback from the DPR, Algaze said the hotel would level the sidewalk and replace the tiles to create a more continuous visual appearance.

The hotel rejected the DPR’s recommendation to round or cut railings to a 45-degree angle “since none of the historic railings or those recently added to the (hotel) have this effect.”

La Jollan Patsy Marino, who serves on the art selection committee for the La Jolla Community Foundation’s Murals of La Jolla, said that, like the foundation’s public art project, she believes the outdoor café will enhance the community’s outdoor culture and ambiance.

“I ask you to consider what the areas used to look like around Burger Lounge, Karl Strauss and Puesto (Mexican restaurant), before those sidewalk cafes were open, and to contemplate what they look like today,” she said. “They’re much more open, energetic places, more family-friendly and I believe important to the success of La Jolla.”

Trustee Dan Courtney argued that the remaining eight-plus feet of sidewalk — although more than what is required per city code — isn’t really wide enough for pedestrians. He also decried what he views as a proliferation of private businesses taking over public spaces for profit.

However, in regard to sidewalk cafes, Trustee David Little said, “that horse has left that barn.”

Trustee Phil Merten, who initially suggested the hotel repave the entire sidewalk, maintained that the elevated café would amount to a “visual disruption” in the sidewalk, though LJCPA trustee Patrick Ahern said some sidewalk cafes in San Diego’s Gaslamp district and in Little Italy are raised — some by nearly 10 inches.

“I love Paris; I love going to the cafes; I love that energy and I think it fits into our community plan,” Ahern said.

Addressing Ahern’s comment, trustee Fran Zimmerman said La Jolla is not the Gaslamp, where design is more of a “hodgepodge.”

Zimmerman, who opposed the project, said putting a railing in front of the café would be “criminal” and detract from the building’s historic façade.

Little made the motion to approve a neighborhood use permit for the cafe, which was seconded by Trustee Joe LaCava. It passed by a vote of 10-7-1.

In other LJCPA news

Group to appeal vacation rental project:

LJCPA trustees also voted to file an appeal with the California Coastal Commission (CCC) on a project it rejected in August, but which was approved last month by the San Diego Planning Commission.

In August, LJCPA members voted that findings could not be made to approve a coastal development permit for a proposed home remodel at 615 Wrelton Drive, just northeast of Tourmaline Surf Park. The owners are seeking to rebuild a 1,733-square-foot, one-story house and add an additional 4,064 square feet, plus other site improvements. The resulting project would be a five-bedroom, five-bath residence of more than 6,000 square feet that LJCPA trustees feel would encroach on the view corridor.

The project applicant appealed the LJCPA’s earlier vote to the Planning Commission, which approved the permit.

In July, the DPR committee was divided on whether to approve the project — with some members feeling the existing residence was already being illegally used like a hotel, with noise and parking problems accompanying short-term vacation rentals at the site.

The LJCPA has formed an ad hoc committee to address the issue of vacation rentals in La Jolla, and will hold its first meeting next month.

Julie Hamilton, a local land-use attorney representing one of two groups adjacent the property that plan to file appeals with the CCC, said the project has “significant issues under La Jolla’s certified local coastal program,” including the loss of public views.

Mike Costello noted that the view corridor along Tourmaline Surf Park is protected in the La Jolla Community Plan. “If you allow people to just inch their way in … to that view corridor, you’re not defending the community plan,” he said.

West Muirlands traffic calming:

LJCPA trustees also approved the installation of traffic-calming median chokers for West Muirlands Drive. The item had been pulled from last month’s consent agenda for further discussion.

Shores storm drain project:

Erin Demorest, a representative for District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, said the first phase of a storm drain project on Avenida de la Playa was slated to begin this week. The work will take about two-and-a-half months.

Trustee Myrna Naegle expressed concerns that construction would disrupt commercial activity during the holidays, though Demorest said the project must begin now to reach is completion date of summer 2014.

Hillel center update:

A revised environmental impact report for the Hillel Jewish Student Center, proposed for a pie-shaped parcel of land adjacent the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla Shores, has been issued. Public comments are due by Jan. 28, 2014. View the document at

Children’s Pool tower update:

San Diego project manager Jihad Sleiman offered an update on construction of the new lifeguard tower at Children’s Pool (Casa) beach. Demolition and grading are complete, he said. Crews are currently pouring the lower-level slab and installing water, sewer and electric lines. These items should be finished by Dec. 15, the first day of the seals’ pupping season, at which point construction will cease until the end of pupping season, June 1, 2014.

Several parking spaces occupied by the contractor will be returned to public use during the construction moratorium, Sleiman said.

Removal of the Seal Cam from the old lifeguard tower and the birth of two seagull chicks at the site put the project a month behind schedule, Sleiman said. The tower should be finished by the beginning of the next pupping season, Dec. 15, 2014.