The volunteer board at the center of a swirling controversy over the future of parking in La Jolla will have to select a new leader after its chairman stepped down amid questions of conflict of interest.
Peter Wagener, the La Jolla businessman who has chaired the La Jolla Community Parking District Advisory Board since it first started holding meetings in January 2005, removed himself from the board after fellow board members expressed concern that Wagener’s ownership of a parking garage created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“It pains me to say this, but I think Peter’s interest in a parking garage may bring his objectivity - of which I have no doubt - into question,” board member Mark Evans said at the board’s Nov. 19 meeting.
Wagener agreed with Evan’s sentiment, recusing himself from the meeting before officially stepping down as chair of the board.
“I’m afraid the connection to the garage may be a valid reason for concern, so why would I fight it?” Wagener said.
Wagener, along with the rest of the board, has been subject to criticism at several public meetings for his support of a proposed pilot parking program that would include implementing paid on-street parking in the Village - a proposal he said he still believes in.
“I believe the cause is valid - La Jolla needs it, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
Wagener, who owns Hotel Parisi on the corner of Prospect Street and Ivanhoe Avenue, said the time he spent researching the parking issue convinced him that paid on-street parking would help businesses in the Village.
“There is a direct relation between meters and sales (increasing),” he said. “The availability of parking would increase sales. It may displace people who shouldn’t be there or can’t afford it, and the people who can afford it will be there and ready to spend - that’s the bottom line. I was (on the board) as a representative of the Business Improvement District, and that’s what the business district is looking for - increased sales.”
Wagener was one of three members on the nine-member board appointed by Promote La Jolla, the city-recognized Business Improvement District for the Village. His decision to step down comes at a time when the rest of the board is also confronting the issue of economic interests. The group is awaiting word from the City Attorney’s office on whether it needs to fill out statement of economic interest forms.
There is a question over whether the board is required to fill out the forms under state law. The main issue seems to be whether the board is strictly advisory, or whether its ability to allocate revenues qualifies it as a decision-making body that must fill out statements of economic interest.
Steve Haskins, a local attorney, had threatened to sue the board if it did not file the forms.
“While one function of the Parking Board may include making recommendations, it is also authorized ... to use its allocated revenue to engage consultants, perform studies, provide maintenance services and acquire property. These are functions that render the exception (to filing statements of economic interest) inapplicable,” Haskins wrote in a letter to the board. He went on to list other city advisory boards that do file the forms.
Haskins is holding off on filing suit until the City Attorney’s office weighs in on the matter, which it said it will do by the group’s Dec. 19 meeting.
“We think the City Attorney, based on our research, should come up with an opinion in agreement with ours,” Haskins said. “The problem here is, if they want to fight tooth-and-nail not to file the statements, it makes them look like they have something to hide.”
Martin Mosier, who served as interim chair after Wagener recused himself, said the board wasn’t fighting against filing the statements.
“Our board doesn’t mind doing it, we were just kind of surprised,” he said. “We have no revenue, no expenses, no contract. We would have done them a long time ago if someone had asked us or told us it was a requirement.”
The location of the board’s Dec. 19 meeting has not yet been determined, as the board is considering several sites to accomodate the larger crowds at recent meetings. For updates, visit www.lajollalight.com.