Looking back at 2007


By Cyril Kellet-Jones, Dave Schwab and Travis Hunter

Two thousand and seven in La Jolla was not only eventful: It was catastrophic. With a landslide, the tragic death of a local surfer and a rancorous community parking debate - there was no shortage of disquieting news.

But far from everything that happened was bad. Here are a few highlights from a tumultuous calendar year, both good and bad:

Landmark landslide

The biggest natural disaster to ever strike 92037 occurred in the early morning of Oct. 3 when the earth shifted beneath Mount Soledad, caving in Soledad Mountain Road, damaging or destroying several homes, severing utilities and causing the emergency evacuation of 111 residents. The area was declared a disaster zone, qualifying it for state and federal relief funds.

Many Mt. Soledad homes were built during the ‘60s, with lesser building standards in an area prone to landslides. City geologist Rob Hawk likened the landslide site’s layered sedimentary soil to a “tilted layer cake,” which he said may have contributed to soil movement and deposit.

Preliminary damage estimates were $22 million - $48 million to private property and $26 million to public works, utilities and roads. The city drove 37 huge nail-like shear pins into bedrock to anchor and stabilize the landslide site. Meanwhile, nearly 50 individual homeowners stood poised to file lawsuits seeking damages against the city, alleging that old, improperly maintained leaking underground water pipes had undermined the soil causing the catastrophe.

Emery Kauanui

Hundreds of surfers joined hands in the waters off WindanSea Beach on June 9 in a memorial ceremony for Emery Kauanui. The 24-year-old professional surfer, known to some as “The Flying Hawaiian” for his high-performance surfing style, was a fixture at WindanSea before his tragic beating death on May 28.

Kauanui died following an altercation with five young men outside his home on Draper Avenue. Friends and family grieved the tragic loss, while the community as a whole was confronted with the ugly reality that youth violence can happen anytime, anywhere. A makeshift “shrine” of flowers and memorabilia sprung up along the fence surrounding Kauanui’s home, moving testimony to the community’s deep sense of caring - and shame.

Five defendants in the case, all La Jolla High grads, four associated with an alleged Bird Rock street gang known as the Bird Rock Bandits, were collectively charged with multiple criminal counts including murder. A preliminary hearing in San Diego Superior Court for the five defendants has been postponed until March 12, 2008.

Parking dispute

On a far less tragic, but nonetheless highly disruptive note, a debate over the age-old question of the adequacy of parking in La Jolla’s downtown Village resurfaced in a big way this year.

The La Jolla Community Parking District Advisory Board began meeting in January 2005, but worked in total obscurity before unveiling a proposal in summer 2007 for a pilot parking program for La Jolla.

The pilot parking proposal, which included implementing paid on-street parking, hiking valet parking fees and instituting residential parking permits for Village neighbors, sparked several months of rowdy public meetings, threats of lawsuits and discourse in the pages of the Light. It also ignited a groundswell of public disapproval and a grass-roots crusade to defeat the proposal by longtime residents and merchants fearing paid parking would despoil the Jewel’s trademark Village atmosphere.

The parking board’s chair eventually stepped down amid concerns of conflicts of interest. The proposed pilot program still hasn’t officially changed from its original form, though board members have recently displayed a new willingness to consider changes.

Community fund-raisers

Not all the news in 2007 was dour, however, as demonstrated by great strides made during 2007 on a couple different fronts involving organizations benefiting all of La Jolla.

Two La Jolla institutions that bring great benefit to the community received outstanding support this year.

In an effort led by the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary Club and enthusiastically embraced by the whole community, Fire Station 13 was expanded by 450 square feet and its existing areas were fully upgraded. The project received more than $300,000 in donations and greatly improved conditions for local firefighters.

The Florence Riford Senior Center also received much-needed community help. The La Jolla Kiwanis and Rotary clubs joined forces with LiveWell San Diego and concerned community members to form Friends of the Riford Center. The goal is to establish a full endowment for the center. The community turned out for an introductory event and got things started with $20,000 in donations.

CPA vs. city of San Diego

An internal dispute within the La Jolla Community Planning Association ended up as another chapter in the power struggle between the San Diego City Council and City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

When a controversial proposal to allow three stories of development within the 30-foot height limit in the Village drew record crowds to the CPA’s meetings, the group accelerated its efforts to renew its bylaws, with the intention of making it easier for residents to participate in the planning process.

Aguirre defended the group’s right to implement new bylaws immediately, without the City Council’s approval. Council President Scott Peters’ threat to strip the CPA of its certification as a city-recognized planning group proved to be an empty one.

McAnuff leaves Playhouse

Des McAnuff announced in June that he would be leaving his post as artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse.

In McAnuff’s two terms, the first of which began in 1983, he elevated the Playhouse to its current status as one of the foremost regional theaters in the United States.

Playhouse productions won 28 Tony Awards during McAnuff’s tenure. He launched several Broadway hits from La Jolla, including “Jersey Boys,” which this year won four Tonys and enjoyed huge commercial success in New York and elsewhere.

City off the hook with Soledad cross

The legal tide appeared to turn - decisively - in 2007 on two highly charged and deeply personal issues to La Jollans: seals at Children’s Pool and the Korean war memorial cross atop Mt. Soledad.

In November 2007, the city of San Diego was finally absolved of all responsibility for legal issues in the 19-year court battle over the constitutionality of the memorial cross atop Mt. Soledad, when a federal court dismissed a lawsuit, Steve Trunk and Philip K. Paulson vs. the City of San Diego, challenging the transfer of the cross site from the city to the federal government on Aug. 14, 2006.

It was a suprising legal about-face. Two years earlier, in October 2005, it seemed almost certain the memorial cross would be forced to be moved off-site to private property after San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cowett ruled the cross land donation violated the State Constitution. Previous to that, Judge Thompson had ruled that a Latin cross constituted religious preference in violation of the state constitution and ordered the city to remove the cross by Aug. 1, 2006, or face stiff daily fines. Thompson’s decree was suspended by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in order to allow appeals to proceed without the threat of fines for not removing the cross.

Courts reverse course on seals

In September 2007, those desiring to have La Jolla’s Children’s Pool, Ellen Browning Scripps’ gift of a safe wading pool to the community which has since been overrun by seals and transformed into a rookery/tourist sealwatching site, were buoyed by an Appellate Court’s decision affirming Valerie O’Sullivan v. the city of San Diego.

The Court of Appeal rejected the city’s argument that the terms of the 1931 trust grant by the state Legislature should allow the city to broadly interpret that document to include purposes other than as “a public park and children’s pool.” The decision apparently cleared the way for sand to be dredged from the pool to return it to the state it was in in 1941 when it was safe for human use while humans and marine mammals co-existed there.