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Salk Institute releases revised plan for expansion

Salk Institute for Biological Studies has released a new version of its master plan update meant to guide development at the iconic 26-acre science facility for the next half-century.

The master plan update does not present a timetable for development. Proposed expansion of facilities includes increased space for lab-based research, a new daycare center for Salk employees’ children and expanded space for administrative support services.

While conceding the intrinsic value of the esteemed institution on Torrey Pines Mesa founded by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk in 1960, environmentalists have objected to a 23,000-square-foot proposal in the updated master plan to construct buildings along Salk Coastal Canyon, one of the last undeveloped coastal canyons in California. Salk’s master plan calls for 210,000 squre feet of expansion, bringing the total amount of developed square footage upon completion to more than 500,000.

“This plan will make it possible for my father’s initial dream for the campus to become a reality,” said the founder’s son, Peter Salk. “It will permit completion of an environment that supports innovative research, broad thinking and creativity, and will extend the institute’s capacity to make contributions to humanity.”

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Environmentalists want to ensure Salk’s build-out goes through proper channels, follows all the rules and, above all, is respectful to the environment.

Environmental attorney Courtney Coyle represents La Jolla Farms Association, a group of Salk neighbors who want the Institute to cluster rather than scatter its growth across its 26-acre site.

“It’s not something we’ve seen so we’re not able to comment on it, whether it’s an improvement over the prior plan,” she said. “My guess is Salk is failing to involve community stakeholders before plan submittal, contrary to what (City Council President Scott) Peters had asked of Salk many years ago.”

Coyle said Salk is putting a spin on its plan update in an attempt to sell it.

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“In the end,” she said, “the (public relations) campaign won’t be relevant as much as whether the master plan is sensitive to the resources and complies with all local state and federal laws. We shall see.”

Since November 2004, the city has been conducting an environmental impact study of the Salk expansion. The project ultimately has to be reviewed by the city Planning Commission and the City Council.

City Council President Scott Peters said he’ll keep an open mind in assessing the Salk master plan update on its merits when the time comes.

“We have to vote on this, so I’m not going to prejudge it,” Peters said. “The job of the City Council is to listen to all sides, consider the effects on the environment, given the importance of the institution and make sure all interests are served and there’s a proper balance. It’s in a very sensitive area. It’s not an easy plan to develop.”

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Peters said Salk’s done due diligence in planning. “Salk’s been very respectful of the (environmental) values that are affected by this.”

The city of San Diego gave 26 acres of pueblo lands overlooking Box Coastal Canyon to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies for the purpose of basic research. True to Salk’s vision of creating a scientific facility for the ages,