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New year, new direction for Promote La Jolla?

An agency dedicated to boosting commerce in La Jolla’s commercial district enters the new year with a roster of new faces on its board of directors, a new president and the challenge of reinventing itself.

Promote La Jolla, the name used by the local Business Improvement District, will also need to rehabilitate its damaged reputation, community leaders say.

Last year was one of the most divisive and controversial for the quasi-government agency since it was formed in 1987.

Split by parking

Promote La Jolla found itself on the losing end of a bitter communitywide debate over a proposal to adopt paid on-street parking in the village commercial district. The 15-member board was also sued by two of its own directors, who are part of an anti-paid-parking coalition that now controls the agency.
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With the economy in freefall, Promote La Jolla’s core mission to market the Village as a regional shopping, restaurant and tourist destination has never been more urgent.

“There is a real threat to the viability of retail in the Village,” said Joe La Cava, a development consultant who is president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association.

Preserving an image

Independent merchants and small businesses here face tough competition from “big box” retailers such as Costco and Wal-Mart with super-discount prices as well as nearby shopping malls such as University Towne Center that feature well-known chain stores and abundant free parking.

“Promote La Jolla realizes that we are in a struggle to preserve the unique Village commercial district that we have,” La Cava said.

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“Most residents here don’t really understand that.”

The agency should reach out to the 42,000 local residents surrounding the business district, he said.

“What they need to do is communicate to the rest of La Jolla that, if you want that Village ambiance, you need to come out and support your local merchants,” he said.

Movin’ on?

Newly elected board member Jennifer Clark said she’s hopeful the group can put the paid-parking controversy behind it and move forward.

“I am eager for Promote La Jolla to put to rest the infighting and get on with the business of working together to enhance our business community, " she said.

Nancy Warwick, a local bookstore owner and a leader of the crusade against paid parking, said she, too, wants to turn the page.

“I’d like us to focus on working together,” she said, adding that the infusion of new board members should make that possible.

She and other critics say Promote La Jolla paid less attention to mom-and-pop retailers in recent years because owners of tourist-oriented businesses dominated it.

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“The board has a better balance now; it’s more diversified,” Warwick said.

Up in the air

Warwick and fellow Promote La Jolla board member Bob Collins sued the agency last year in a dispute over their election to the board. A judge ruled in favor of Warwick and Collins, who also sued to obtain public records they believed the agency held.

Although the board of directors recently voted to settle the lawsuits, a final settlement agreement to end the litigation has not been signed.

Getting the agency back on track is likely to dominate the discussion when the board of directors holds its yearly organizational meeting at noon Jan. 14 at the La Valencia Hotel.

The annual board “retreat” is actually open to the public.

Leader stepping down

Promote La Jolla’s board president Deborah Marengo, CFO of Marengo Morton architects and owner of a beachfront cafe, said she won’t seek re-election to the leadership post she has held the past seven years. Despite some lingering disappointment over the paid-parking controversy, Marengo said she expects the board’s new leadership to rise to the occasion.

“I don’t think the rift is as deep as it’s perceived to be,” she said.

Promote La Jolla’s 2009 budget calls for $317,000 in spending.

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The city collects about $187,000 annually on behalf of the district in assessments paid by about 1,200 business owners in a 30-block area. The assessments range from $45 to $350 per year.

Another $130,000 is generated from grants, donations from business owners and from the proceeds of special events the agency sponsors, such as this weekend’s Motor Car Classic.

The meeting agenda follows:

PROMOTE LA JOLLA, INC.

ADMINISTRATORS FOR THE BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT

BOARD OF DIRECTORS MEETING

La Valencia, 1132 Prospect St.

January 14, 2009 at 12 noon

AGENDA

2009 Strategic Planning Retreat

CALL TO ORDER

ACTION ITEM: MOTION TO APPROVE THE MINUTES FROM

November and December, 2008

Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items and General Announcements

Visitors’ Reports:

Representative from Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher’s Office

Representative from Councilmember Lightner’s Office

Other Representatives

Welcome & Introduction – Deborah Marengo

Board Member Introductions - All Board Members

PLJ 2008 Activities and Budget Overview – Tiffany Sherer

Review Strategic Plan Accomplishments in 2008 – Tiffany Sherer

Board Pre-Retreat Survey Results – Leslie Wade

2009 SWOT Exercise (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) - Board

Goal Setting and Committee Recommendations – Board

Economic Development – Peter Wagener

Design – Vacant

Promotions – Vacant

Organization/Admin – Deborah Marengo

Priority Setting for Action Items - Board

Resources Discussion: Board/Committee/Staff/Consultants - Board

Review Top Priorities for 2009 – Leslie Wade

Financial Report

ACTION ITEM: APPROVE FINANCIAL REPORT and GRANT APPLICATION for CITY EDTS GRANT Review and vote on December 2008 Financial Report, Resolution of the Board of Directors of Promote La Jolla, Inc, approving the application for Funding from the City of San Diego Special Promotional Program for Fiscal Year 2010 in the amount of $50,000

4:00 PM Time Certain, Presentation from the City of San Diego regarding the Water and Sewer Group 715 and 716 that will be in the Village. Slated for Sept. 2009.

LIAISONS

PDO Committee Report – Wagenseller, Underwood ,Marengo PDO Amendment vote

La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board – Marengo, Vacant

CONTINUING BUSINESS

NEW BUSINESS

ADJOURN TO: February 9, 2009, location TBD