OPINION: Merchants need to show up at business district forum


Merchants of the Village: Today’s your day to speak up about the future of La Jolla’s business improvement district.

The drama that split the Promote La Jolla board — putting marketing and beautification efforts on hold for nearly a year — may be settling down and we have a chance to move forward. With the future in mind, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner planned a forum for this afternoon where representatives of several other business districts will talk about their successes and challenges.

La Jolla’s business community faces two major challenges. First, our retail mix has changed dramatically over the years, bringing us more and more chain stores — the GAP, Banana Republic, Vons, CVS — or those headquartered in other parts of San Diego. With a few exceptions, their local representatives haven’t been inclined to get involved, so, in essence, we have absentee landlords. And that leaves fewer local owners to be the voice of our community.

Perhaps more significant, though, is the infighting and finger-pointing that have turned off some of our community’s strongest advocates, including those who represented our locally owned restaurants and hotels. Some of it started when the issue of paid parking reared its ugly head several years ago; today the finger-pointing continues with an overriding sense that reasonable people can’t disagree.

Perhaps that’s the very reason Lightner did not ask Rick Wildman or the others on the Promote La Jolla board to speak at today’s forum. When he lashed out at her last week for not informing them about the meeting before releasing information to the Light, she told them they’re welcome to attend and see what they can learn.

Wildman, who filed paperwork to form a new nonprofit that would apply to run the business district, has said he believes “everyone knows what needs to be done.”

Lightner’s not so sure, which is why she organized today’s meeting.

Yes, Wildman and others have given a lot of time and effort to the Village and sought solutions with no money and little support. But new blood is needed.

Even Deborah Marengo, who led Promote La Jolla before Wildman’s “reform slate” was elected and is the sole remaining holdover board member, acknowledges a “clean slate” is the answer.

The biggest question that needs to be answered: Do the merchants even want an organization to help them? That’s one question our city councilwoman will raise at today’s meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Recreation Center (which, by the way, still leaves time to stop by the Town Council Sunsetter at Henessey’s, which wraps up at 7 p.m.)

If no one shows up at the meeting — or only Wildman and the other remaining PLJ board members are there — it will speak volumes.

We hope that the perpetual finger-pointing has not permanently eliminated any chance of moving forward. It’s time for us to find robust leadership to challenge the status quo and bring La Jolla back to its rightful role as the Jewel. But if no one steps up, maybe the business improvement district needs to go dormant for a while and see if merchants can find another way to market and beautify the Village.


n Councilwoman Sherri Lightner hosts a La Jolla business improvement district forum

n La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.

n Oct. 21 4 to 6 p.m.