Salk expansion project moves closer to completion

The public will soon have a chance to weigh in on a proposed expansion of the Salk Institute onto the coastal bluffs west of its current campus.

The long-awaited environmental impact report (EIR) for the project is expected to be completed by the city by the middle of March, according to Salk officials. After the report is complete, the public will have 45 days to comment on the report, after which the project will be sent along to the City Planning Commission. The planning commission will take a vote on the project that will serve to advise the City Council, which will make the final decision.

“The EIR is the key step in getting the process out in the public forum,” said Mark Rowson of Latitude 33 Planning and Engineering, which is handling the expansion proposal.

The Salk Institute, which opened on the Torrey Pines Mesa in 1965, proposes to expand onto both of two bluffs, called the North and South Peninsula, that extend out toward the ocean from its current facility. The institute hopes to construct temporary housing for visiting scholars and a daycare facility for use by institute employees on the South Peninsula. They want to construct a building for administrative offices and a community center on the North Peninsula. In addition, the institute hopes to add a new lab building to the east of its current facility that would front Torrey Pines Road, with two levels of underground parking beneath it. They plan to build new lab facilities under the institute’s north lawn, as well as another three-story underground parking structure.

Salk Institute President Richard Murphy said the expansions are consistent with the original Master Plan for the institute that was created in 1962. He said they are necessary to keep Salk vital and that new technologies and fields of study will soon require space at an institute that is already operating at double its intended density. Murphy noted that several other research institutions on the Torrey Pines Mesa, including the Scripps Research Institute and the Burnham Institute, have expanded by opening new satellite facilities in Florida.

“We looked at that, but we think the interactions between scientists here are critical to our success,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the 12 housing units, each at about 1,000 square feet, that will be constructed on the South Peninsula are necessary because many visiting scholars who work at Salk for months at a time could not otherwise afford to stay near the institute during their visit.

The need for a daycare facility is likewise a result of high housing costs, Murphy said. Many Salk employees live in East County San Diego and are forced to leave work early in order to pick their children up at daycare facilities near their homes, he said. Murphy said that women post-doctoral scholars with children work an average of six hours per week less than their counterparts without children, while men with children work an average of four hours less. The daycare facility, which would be for use by children 5 and under, would largely eliminate this loss in productivity, Murphy said.

The environmental impact report will outline every impact the project would have on the area, including impacts on nearby roads and, perhaps more importantly given the institute’s location, impacts on wildlife and natural resources. The public debate on the project will kick off in earnest when the environmental impact report is released by the city some time in March, but the proposal has already attracted some criticism.

Residents of the La Jolla Farms neighborhood directly south of the institute want the expansion west of the current facility to be limited to the North Peninsula. The environmental impact report will include an analysis of the project if all the development were clustered on the North Peninsula.

Some environmentalists have already expressed concern about the project as well, though that debate will likely be made more clear after the release of the environmental impact report. Rowson said the project will not impact any steep slopes or vernal pools. The project would infringe by less than one tenth of an acre on a city-designated multi-habitat protection area to the west of the current facility. In return, the institute would add three acres of its 27-acre parcel to the protected area.

For more information on the Salk Institute expansion proposal, visit To receive notice when the environmental impact report on the project is complete, contact the city’s Development Services department at (858) 446-5000.