La Jolla Merchants group discusses 2015 priorities

Rogue recycling operation also at issue

In its fourth year, the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) is faced with an ongoing conundrum: most business owners within the La Jolla Business Improvement District (BID) have only a tangential sense of what the group does and, as board member Billy Borja of Orange Theory Fitness noted during the group’s December meeting, when he reached out to business owners in his area this year, many did not even know the group exists.

Thus, the organization the City of San Diego contracts with to manage fees assessed on merchants within La Jolla’s BID, is making “education” one of its primary objectives for 2015.

This and other plans for the coming year were discussed during the LJVMA’s strategic planning meeting Dec. 10 at the Cuvier Club.

Through its “Block Captain Program,” by which board members go door-to-door in their respective areas speaking with merchants about the LJVMA and collecting data on what businesses have opened and closed, the group was able to get more merchants to file their business tax certificate (or business license) with the city and pay the associated La Jolla BID assessment (which helps fund the LJVMA and its efforts to promote business in the Village).

An annual report released just prior to the Dec. 10 meeting noted that, as a result of those efforts, the group’s average annual monthly BID assessments increased from a low of $12,000 per month to $26,308 in August.

However, LJVMA executive director Sheila Fortune said there are still more than 600 businesses within La Jolla’s BID that haven’t filed their business tax certificate, nor paid their assessment.

“I think we’ve grown our merchant base significantly,” Fortune said, adding that by getting more businesses to file their tax certificates the LJVMA has been recognized as a model for the city’s other BID groups in conducting such outreach. “I’m going to be leading a group for the city to now challenge the tax office to go after business tax monies — properly. It’s all about educating the merchants and potential merchants and maybe formulating a new system for the City of San Diego, which Mayor Faulconer is very much open to.”

The LJVMA hopes to create synergy from the cachet that several commercial projects in the works will add to La Jolla’s commercial district, including the soon-to-open La Plaza La Jolla boutique shopping center, a three-story structure at Wall Street and Girard Avenue that sat mostly vacant when Jack’s nightclub complex closed in 2009.

Other projects include a seven-screen cinema complex under construction on Fay Avenue (formerly Jonathan’s Market) and La Jolla Music Society’s future concert hall, which will go in directly across the street on Fay.

Fortune and newly elected board member Elsie Arredondo (of Monarch Gallery) said they would like to create a system to woo high-end or more appropriate businesses for the Village. The program would involve putting together a database and marketing package that can be presented to potential retailers or restaurateurs, with demographic and other information about the Village and specific regions in which they may consider opening shop (possibly in concert with local real estate brokers).

“How do we bring businesses that we want to attract to La Jolla, rather than just letting whoever can sign the lease and pay a couple months rent come in and see how it goes?” Fortune posited.

LJVMA board president Claude-Anthony Marengo said it would be preferable for the group to create its own database nformation about the Village, noting that project applicants for an Alzheimer’s care facility presented information at a recent La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting that painted a “bleak” picture of the Village’s commercial health.

Fortune said the applicant’s strategy was to make it appear that, “ ‘Nothing else will ever go into this building … (so) you should be happy that we’re even thinking about (opening) a business here because of your occupancy levels in La Jolla.’

“We don’t need attitude,” Fortune said. “If that were the attitude then Jack’s would never be anything again and we wouldn’t have this beautiful new La Plaza that’s coming into it.”

Marengo said the group should work to more concretely define loosely branded areas of the Village, such as its cultural, arts and design districts.

“(Those) could be enhanced and highlighted more to attract new business ... and show them, ‘Look, we’ve got a new arts center; we have a new theater. Come in on the ground floor. This is how it’s going to happen,’ ” Marengo said. He further noted his push to have LJVMA signage in the windows of vacant spaces that would provide potential renters with tastefully-displayed, useful information about zoned uses and specs for available spaces, as well as contact info for the LJVMA to help potential renters navigate the city permitting process.

Fortune said the empty, dark storefront of the former Burns Drugs space and other vacancies are unsightly and often trash-strewn.

Borja said it would help to reach out to landlords and let them know that beautifying their spaces will make them more attractive to potential tenants.

Although business owners such as the Grande Colonial Hotel and Warwicks Bookstore have gone to great lengths to beautify their sidewalks and storefronts, Marengo reported, “a lot of building owners are not walking the sidewalks every year. If we could just share that vision. … say we’ve priced this out and have buying power … then, when someone goes to do some of these items, they can go to the Merchants Association to get a better price.”

In other LJVMA news

It was noted that LJVMA board member Richard Walker (of Richard Walker’s Pancake House) will take over from James Niebling as head of the design committee, which manages LJVMA’s hanging flower basket program, holiday lights, banners and memorial benches.

Items to revisit: The group also discussed reviving its Haute La Jolla Nights live music and shopping events in the Village, which were suspended for 2014 due to a lack of participation and complaints about the events’ configuration. Fortune said the group will also seek more sponsors for a fundraising “La Jolla-opoly” board game, which earlier this year failed to garner the interest and support a similar board game did for Ocean Beach’s BID group.

Fortune’s annual report noted the group is working with Fashion Week San Diego to bring that event to the Village (possibly holding it on a section of Wall Street), as a signature LJVMA event.

2014 audit: Fortune said the LJVMA yearly audit was almost complete and would be discussed during the group’s January meeting, and be available online prior to that on the group’s website, lajollabythesea.com

Marketing 101: The group also hopes to launch a monthly “Marketing 101 Roundtable Education Group” to help inform merchants of marketing, public relations and social media resources.

Recycling woes: During the meeting, Park Row resident John Brice asked the LJVMA for its help cracking down on a “years-old” and “possibly illegal” beer and libation bottle recycling business operating in a residential neighborhood, just off Prospect Street (taking advantage of bins full of recyclable bottles at restaurants and bars).

“We all support recycling when done correctly,” Brice told the group, though adding, “this is not being done correctly. Every day multiple pickup trucks full of empty beer bottles are parked for hours, sometimes all day and overnight, on Silverado Street, Park Row and other Village streets.

“At various times, often as early as 6 a.m., the bottles are moved from one pickup to a larger truck. The process makes a very loud racket and wakes up the neighborhood. And during this process the street is partially blocked by various trucks that are double-parked, parked in red (zones) and/or blocking residential driveways. …

“We request that these businesses not work with this recycler until they conduct themselves with respect to residents — and until it is determined if it is a legal, licensed businesses that has the right (or is zoned) to conduct such activity on residential streets.”

Marengo said he would create a flier “to let the owners of the restaurants know that by not locking their recycling trash cans, (they) are being pillaged.

“Now, some of the restaurants, you have to understand, don’t mind being pillaged, because they get charged for the removal of the glass from the container,” Marengo noted, adding business owners may not be aware of the noise and disturbance to nearby residents.

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