Plan to nix La Jolla PDO receives tepid response

La Jolla Town Council also hears update on Wall Street post office plans

During the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA) July 2 meeting and La Jolla Town Council’s (LJTC) July 9 meeting, Claude-Anthony Marengo, a principal with Marengo Morton Architects and president of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), pitched his plan to eliminate La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO), or blueprint for design.

Marengo argued that the document, created in 1984, is “antiquated” and riddled with “holes.”

Marengo, Orrin Gabsch and other LJCPA members spent more than two years crafting proposed updates to the document that were forwarded to the city, although never implemented due to a lack of city funding.

“The city has done nothing,” he said, during the LJCPA meeting. “Now there is new blood in the city. There’s new things going on, new directors, new promotions, and I fear it’s going to get worse.”

Though the La Jolla PDO was intended, among other things, to preserve retail in the Village by requiring new development contain a certain percentage of retail on the ground floor, Marengo said the PDO isn't woking because developers are finding loopholes to get around that requirement.

In the past year, he noted, the city approved several applicants’ requests for deviations to the PDO’s ground-floor retail requirement. Deviations were granted to the Silver Street Village Homes townhouse development planned for Silver Street and Draper Avenue and the Monarch Cottages Alzheimer’s residential care facility coming to 7630 Fay Ave. (though the latter will contain a small café to maintain some retail connectivity).

“We’re losing our retail source as our economy changes,” Marengo said, adding that the city is inconsistent in its application of the La Jolla PDO and other regulations. “I’m proof. I do a lot of development here in town and I can tell you it’s easy to bypass that PDO document.”

Whether or not the city nixes the PDO, Marengo said his strategy is to “force its hand to bring (current) regulations up to par” and “make the land development code actually function and work with this community.”

Marengo said he doubts the city would let the PDO fall by the wayside without formulating another solution because “there are some other regulations like the two-story height limit that are in that document that are very important,” he said. “But it’ll force their hand to do something.

“This antiquated document doesn’t help us,” he said. “It hurts us, as a community.”

If the city is unwilling to facilitate change, Marengo argued La Jolla should let economic development take its course.

“If people feel that development without retail in our business core is a good thing, then we should let the economy decide what goes into the Village. If it needs to be all residential, let it be all residential.”

LJCPA trustee Dolores Donovan said she feels getting rid of the PDO in its entirety is akin to “throwing the baby out with the bath water. It would be much better to amend it,” she said.

During the LJTC meeting, trustee Joe Pitrofsky, who also serves with Marengo’s wife, Deborah, on the Planned District Ordinance subcommittee, noted that committee recently rejected a request to deviate from the PDO’s retail requirement from the owner of the former Hotel Parisi at 1111 Prospect St.

“I see developers coming in here to the PDO committee constantly trying to request an exemption or a variance from the (retail) requirement,” Pitrofsky said. “There’s a huge market for residential condos, I’m sure, in the heart of downtown La Jolla. If you make it even easier (for them by removing the PDO) they can just come in, build a bunch of condos, head out of town and then it’s too late — and that’s exactly what would happen.”

Speaking with La Jolla Light earlier this week, LJCPA second vice-president Joe LaCava, who also chairs the city’s Community Planners Committee, said he believes that “while the PDO probably could stand some refinement, the PDO in its entirety should be preserved.”

A representative for the office of San Diego City Council President and La Jolla Shores resident Sherri Lightner, said Lightner had not yet been apprised of the plan, but believes La Jolla's PDO is working fine. She said any such effort would have to go through the normal city vetting and approval process.

LaCava said that though many people were frustrated that previously proposed revisions to the document were not implemented, there have been no detrimental effects identified from not implementing the proposed changes.

“The PDO has served the Village well over the years in terms of maintaining the scale of the Village and preserving the retail environment,” he said, adding the city felt some of the previously proposed changes were “too vague.”

An effort to revise the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance document — particularly to deal with La Jolla Shores unique absence of floor-area ratios — is being explored by residents of that community.

In other Town Council news

Barber Tract beaches improve: Barber Tract resident Ann Kerr reported that problems with drinking, drug use and trash at Barber Tract beaches seem to be improving. She thanked the office of District 1 City Council representative Sherri Lightner for facilitating last month’s meeting with Barber Tract residents, lifeguards and police.

“Since then, the lifeguard presence has increased and beach patrol has been coming with their all-terrain vehicles,” she said, adding that police and lifeguards have recently handed out more than 100 citations, some involving minors in possession of alcohol.

During the Aug. 13 Town Council meeting, police officer Larry Hesselgesser and lifeguard Lt. Rich Stropky will share statistics collected from La Jolla beaches and information on how residents can help with enforcement. “It’s almost back to its regular self,” Kerr said of Marine Street beaches. “We just have to keep it up a little bit.”

Post office update: Sarah Czarnecki, with the office of 52nd District Congressmember Scott Peters, reported that she met with the regional director of the U.S. Postal Service, during which time she was told the USPS may be having an appraisal done on the 1140 Wall St. post office in the next six months.

“If they can’t find retail space for a new facility here in the community, they will not be moving — and as anyone here who’s familiar with La Jolla real estate can probably attest, that is going to be a hard-sell and a difficult find here in the Village,” she said. “So I hope that the Wall Street office is here for many years to come.”

Also, as the USPS prepares to relocate operations at its La Jolla letter carrier annex on Silver Street to the University City annex at 5045 Shoreham Place on July 25, Czarnecki said, “The ultimate goal is that residents and their customers here don’t feel that change at all. If there’s anything you notice about your mail delivery service related to the annex, feel free to get in touch with me.”

Czarnecki can be reached at sarah.czarnecki@mail.house.gov

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