Outraged planning group demands Scripps lop a story off MESOM building in La Jolla

By Pat Sherman

During its Oct. 4 meeting, La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA) board members expressed anger, frustration and mistrust in response to a 40,000-square-foot research laboratory currently under construction at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).

CPA board members said the $26.5 million project, SIO’s Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling Laboratory (MESOM) off La Jolla Shores Drive, is being constructed at a height that is greater than what was initially presented by UC San Diego officials.

During the meeting CPA board member and architect Laura Ducharme-Conboy presented a series of slides featuring photo renderings of the building as presented by UCSD in 2010 and 2011.

The renderings were superimposed with photos of the ongoing construction, taken by Ducharme-Conboy at the same location to demonstrate how the construction exceeds the height level represented in the renderings, robbing the community of coastal views at the apex of La Jolla Shores Drive.

Fielding the association’s questions, Brad Werdick, UCSD’s director of physical and community planning, conceded that the building’s height exceeds what was presented in the renderings.

“There is a discrepancy between the height of the building that’s under construction and what was shown in the photo simulation,” Werdick said, maintaining UCSD architects “did the best that they could” to create photo simulations from a 3D model. However, he said, “The original photo simulations never showed (that the building wouldn’t) block white-water or blue-water views.”

“As we bring our next project forward, if you don’t believe or trust the university, ask for story poles,” Werdick said. “It was never our intent to mislead. ... Moving forward, ask those questions. We’re fine if you want more information.”

In approving a Coastal Development Permit for the project, the California Coastal Commission required mitigation measures to open up the view corridor in other areas.

To comply, UCSD removed 28 eucalyptus and other non-native trees and is adding several coastal overlook points in the area that will be accessible to the public.

As a further concession, UCSD is working in concert with the Coastal Commission to place a deed restriction on the property stating that all future building elevation will “not exceed the elevation of La Jolla Shores Drive,” Werdick said.

CPA board member Jim Fitzgerald asked why there was such a discrepancy in the project’s height and what was initially presented to the community.

“Why didn’t they notice this when they started (construction),” Fitzgerald asked. “Why didn’t somebody say, ‘Wait, this isn’t what we said we were going to do.’ ”

Fellow board member Phil Merten added, “With projects of this scale, and the kind of money that’s being spent, I think it’s horrible that professionals doing these things can’t do a better job depicting the building as its going to be — that’s assuming that there wasn’t an attempt to mislead and make the building look lower than it actually is.”

Werdick offered his own slide presentation, which also showed some discrepancy in the height of the current construction and the photo renderings.

Werdick said formwork, temporary molds into which concrete is poured for the construction, rise 6 to 18 inches above the roofline, making the building appear higher than it will look once complete.

UCSD planner Anu Delouri said that though the photo simulations were not accurate, the building elevation as presented in environmental documents and architectural drawings is accurate and drawn to scale.

“I don’t even look at construction drawings,” said CPA board vice-president and development consultant, Joe LaCava, who is adept at reading them.

Though LaCava said he does not favor the project, he conceded that the community might have missed an opportunity to investigate the project further. He said the design is in accordance with the La Jolla Community Plan.

“They built what our community plan told them to build and that kind of makes me sick,” LaCava said. “Why did we draw that community plan to look like that? ... We probably could have changed it; we probably could have worked with them.”

Asked what UCSD’s official position on the project is moving forward, Werdick responded, “We’re building a project according to what was permitted, both by the coastal commission, as well as an environmental document. I’m here to take arrows, but it’s (also) to understand how we can work better in the future.

“There’s a high level of skepticism right now, which I can appreciate,” he said, “but that’s our position.”

Board member Tim Lucas said he feels the public “got gamed.” “If we don’t have renderings that reflect the entire project, not just the most favorable viewpoint, we’re lost,” he said. “This thing is just too huge.”

Dan Courtney also pulled no punches, deeming the project “outrageous” and “disgusting,” given that UCSD is not required to contribute to community infrastructure to the extent other local development is.

“The credibility is not there anymore,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of talking, but I think we need to take action. ... We owe it to the community.”

Noting that the City of San Diego ordered the developer of the Sunroad office tower to remove a story from its building (which was found to exceed Federal Aviation Administration height limits), Courtney proposed a similar request be made of UCSD.

Courtney made a motion, which was seconded by Fitzgerald, to have the CPA’s president send a letter to the UC Regents, the governor, the coastal commission, the state architect, San Diego Development Services, the mayor and UCSD’s chancellor requesting a reduction in height of the MESOM lab to conform with renderings presented to the community.

The motion was approved 15-1-1 with LaCava abstaining and secretary Dan Allen opposed. “I think you’re beating a dead horse,” Allen said.

In other CPA news

Vallecitos development:

LJCPA trustees voted 8-5-2 to approve demolition of an existing 2,664-square-foot residence and construction of a 4,920-square-foot single-story home at 2351 Vallecitos.

The project, submitted by Island Architects, includes a three-car garage, pool and retaining walls on a 19,236-square-foot lot. The La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee shot the project down last month, on the basis that it disrupts the architectural unity of the area.

Tree trimming:

Erin Demorest, a representative for District 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, said the mayor has allocated $257,000 for one-time tree trimming of approximately 7,500 queen and date palm trees within the public right-of-way, citywide.

Lightner’s office has requested that every queen and date palm in the Village be evaluated for inclusion in the service contract.

Demorest said anyone with suggestions on palms in the Village that need trimming should call Lightner’s office at (619) 236-6611.

Street sprucing:

Demorest also reported that Lighter has set aside $16,000 from her council budget to hire Urban Corps to clean up trash and debris from Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla Boulevard and other throughways in La Jolla. Urban Corps provides employment opportunities to distressed and at-risk youth.

“Hopefully all the main roads will be looking a lot better in a month or so after they finish that work,” Demorest said.