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New LJ business group starting up

A group of merchants is banding together to form a new organization to promote La Jolla business.

To accomplish that mission, they are starting small, with ideas for holiday lighting, and the name La Jolla Village Business Association, said Alfonso Fierro, who led an organizational meeting of the group on Sept. 30.

Fierro said the next day that things have to change in La Jolla.

“We have nothing to offer tourists,” he said, noting that the loose-knit group wants to figure out transportation to bring people from downtown and to clean up the area.

He would not tie the idea of starting a new group directly to the problems plaguing Promote La Jolla, saying on Oct. 1, “We’re a new group. It’s a new day; it’s a new month.”

He said right now they are just sharing ideas. He said he wants to include merchants in Bird Rock and La Jolla Shores as well as the Village core, where the effort is starting.

“La Jolla is La Jolla,” he added. “It’s all of us.”

Until recently, PLJ has planned events to attract people to the business district, paid for the hanging flower baskets and supplemented street cleanup efforts. It had operated under the city’s business improvement district program, but since a city audit was issued in June, the group has had its funds from the city suspended and has not had its operating contract approved by the city council.

Attorney Steven Haskins, a La Jollan who represented Nancy Warwick and Bob Collins in their lawsuit against Promote La Jolla which had refused to seat the pair on the board, has been involved in helping the new group get established, Fierro said.

Haskins, who has taken an unpaid advisory role, has been talking with friends and associates about how this type of group works, he said Friday.

“We want to be an organization that can operate and do the things we want,” he added. To do so, they are likely to form a nonprofit public benefit corporation under state law.

Later, he said, whatever board is elected would determine whether to seek federal tax-exempt status.

At last week’s meeting, other merchants echoed Fierro’s concerns about the condition of La Jolla’s streets and businesses.

Norman Kass, owner of Prospect Place Fine Art, said he has “a lot of hostility” about the condition of the community and lack of responsibility.

“Who’s in charge,” he asked. “La Jolla is a dirty filthy area. … Can we get our streets cleaned? … At Christmas, we need to make sure our streets are clean and not dug up.”

Part of the construction Kass referred to involves updating the wiring on the historic streetlights. That project, which has run into complications because of the age of the system, was to include installation of plugs that merchants could have used to hang lights.

Individual Promote La Jolla board members in 2008 when the project was approved had pledged to raise $9,000 to cover the added cost, but with the state of the economy and the organization’s turmoil, none followed through before the September deadline, PLJ president Rick Wildman said.

At this point, Fierro said he has about 20 people - those who attended the meeting - interested and business cards for nearly 60 more business people he plans to contact.

The group will meet again, although they did not set a date. Interested merchants should e-mail LaJollaVBA@gmail.com.