Religious institutions in La Jolla Shores addressed in updated code

As the city prepares to update its Land Development Code (which it does every few years to correct errors and reflect changes in policy) the guidelines for religious institutions within La Jolla Shores will again be addressed.

Chair of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) Joe LaCava presented a short history of previous updates at the Dec. 10 La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) meeting, and discussed possible recommendations the board could make to reflect the needs of the community. The LJSA will vote on the language at its January meeting, before recommendations go to the City Planning Commission in February.

LaCava offered three suggestions for how to regulate religious institutions and large assemblies:

1) Require a conditional-use permit for any religious institution or large assembly anywhere in the Shores;

2) Prohibit religious institutions or large assemblies in single-family zones and require a conditional-use permit in the other zones;

3) Default to city regulations, which prohibit religious institutions and large assemblies in single-family zones, permissible in other zones up to 300-attendee capacity, and require a conditional-use permit above that.

This is the ninth update for the Code, and the second time guidelines for religious institutions are being included. Such guidelines were included in the seventh update, but the regulating language disappeared from the eighth update.

Prior to the seventh update, LaCava said, “every other planned district in the City of San Diego had some kind of regulation for religious institutions, but in La Jolla Shores, you could put a religious institution anywhere you wanted. You’d have to go through a coastal development permit, a site development permit review, but otherwise you could put one anywhere. The city said ‘that doesn’t seem right. You should have the same level of protection as every other part of the city.’ ”

In the seventh update, the city introduced language into the Shores Planned District Ordinance — or blueprint for design — that had some regulation of religion institutions, but did not address large assemblies. “Essentially, they are the same thing, one just has a religious component, which the U.S. Constitution does not allow you to regulate,” LaCava said.

In the eighth update, the religious regulation was nowhere to be found. “We’re not entirely sure how it disappeared, but the theory is when the city was doing the eighth update, they were running into problems and were accused of regulating religious institutions differently than large assemblies,” he said.

Hoping to suggest language that addresses both, LJSA members discussed the three suggestions to find one appropriate for La Jolla Shores.

Noting that 90-95 percent of the Shores lies within a single-family zone, LaCava said the middle ground was the option of prohibiting large assemblies “across the board” in single-family zones and requiring a conditional-use permit in the other zones.

LaCava said the board has the option of amending the recommendation to prohibit large assemblies in single-family and multi- family zones, but allow them with a conditional-use permit in commercial zones and visitor zones.

Although the board did not vote on the issue at its December meeting, LJSA member Janie Emerson said this amended option “fits the Shores best.”

There are currently no regulations on large assemblies at the Shores, and the ninth Code update would not likely be enforceable until 2017, LaCava said.However, LJSA chair Tim Lucas said there are other “limiting factors” in the Shores that would deter an organization from taking advantage of the situation.

“Even if a religious institution can go into a single-family zone right now, there are city regulations that govern things like parking based on the size of the assembly,” he said. “So it’s hard to just buy a house and put something up without having the (required) number of spaces for how big your intended assembly is. There are some protections in case someone tries to shoehorn something in — in an inappropriate location.”

Projects already in the works, such as the oft-rejected Hillel Center for Jewish Life — proposed to serve Jewish students at UC San Diego at a center off La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road — would not be affected by the regulations because they would not be retroactive.

To prevent something like this from happening in the future, Emerson said, “There needs to be something (at the city level) that protects a community when the community moves an important action forward and that action is deleted through no effort of theirs or no desire of theirs,” she said.

Lucas said the suggested regulations would be posted on LJSA’s website ( and public comments are welcome via e-mail or at the next meeting. “You don’t represent the community unless you get community input,” he said.

■ La Jolla Shores Association next meets 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14 at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Building T-29, 8840 Biological Grade.