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Some merchants saying ‘enough of Promote La Jolla’

With Promote La Jolla (PLJ) mired in a financial quagmire and struggling to be recertified by the city of San Diego, many are wondering whether the business improvement district (BID) should be saved or scrapped.

Formed in 1987, PLJ’s mission is to market La Jolla’s downtown Village as a regional shopping, restaurant and tourist destination. Every business in the 30-block Village area - about 1,200 - is automatically a member and pays fees to the city.

But has the organization been achieving that goal?

Six of PLJ’s 15-member board recently resigned. And a random phone sampling of merchants shows others among the organization’s rank-and-file who feel the BID’s mission has gone awry.

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One such critic is Anthony Ciani, an architect with an office at 830 Kline St.

“From the beginning, I have not been one of their fans,” he said. “Their logo, their whole approach … La Jolla was a much nicer place for its residents and its visitors when it was less pretentious.”

Another is Ken Renick, owner of Box Brothers, a packaging business at 1130 Wall St. near the post office, said he doesn’t feel better off because Promote La Jolla.

“I’d just as soon they dissolve it,” he said. “I don’t benefit from it: not in any way that I’m aware of. I’m paying the (business) tax, but I don’t get anything from it.”

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Bill White, owner of The Ascot Shop, a 59-year-old classic men’s retail clothing store at 7750 Girard Ave., said it’s difficult to quantify PLJ’s accomplishments. “Streetlights on Prospect have been dark for a long time,” he said. “An organization like that should have been some help in resolving those issues.”

(The city is in the process of replacing the wiring for the lights but has run into technical difficulties that have delayed the project. Before Tiffany Sherer left her job as executive director of PLJ she was closely involved with coordinating when the work would be done and updating merchants on progress.)

Should a new organization, perhaps one moving in a new direction, be created to take PLJ’s place?

“La Jolla is a name that is recognized all over the world,” said Joe Klatt, whose realty office is at 1124 Wall St. “Do we really need to be promoted beyond that? I don’t think so.”

He’s among those who think PLJ is “an organization that has run its course.”

Leon Chow, owner of Nelson Photo of La Jolla at 7720 Fay Ave., described his experience in dealings with PLJ as “disappointing.”

“My interaction with them was with their classic car event,” he said. “It just didn’t go the way I was hoping. There was a lot of confusion with what I was expected to do.”

Chow added he was a backer of the reform slate that was swept into office on PLJ’s board at the beginning of the year.

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“I signed their petition,” he said. “At that time I felt PLJ was promoting a handful of people’s own interests.”

Chow, who used to be involved with the BID in Little Italy, said La Jolla’s group could learn a lot from that organization, which he said truly represents its businss community.

A former PLJ boarmember, Keith Nathan of K Nathan Gallery, believes the bid’s mission has been “pretty well intentioned.” However, he added it has, at times, also been misdirected.

“The money they get should be spent on making the town look nice: hardscaping, flowers, repairing things, keeping it clean,” he said. “The mission should be to promote the businesses of La Jolla without promoting some businesses above other businesses. Unfortunately, in the past, that’s what’s happened.”

Attorney Glen Rasmussen, part of PLJ’s reform slate who is heading up the Streetscape/Design Committee - a joint group with La Jolla Town Council, decried the actions of some of PLJ’s directors who’ve abruptly left, while insisting it’s time to “circle the wagons” in support of the organization.

“PLJ is supposed to support businesses in La Jolla and is emasculated from doing so until the mess is resolved. The La Jolla Business Improvement District needs representatives of all kinds of businesses to fill the voids on the board.”