State of La Jolla: Citizens key to progress

About 50 community members attending the La Jolla Town Council’s (LJTC) inaugural “State of La Jolla” event gained insight into the work of key planning and advisory groups during the Jan. 8 forum at La Jolla Rec Center.

The event — which offered updates on La Jolla-based groups advising the city on land-use, commerce and governmental issues — was the first this year in a planned series of four LJTC forums. The next events will highlight La Jolla’s arts and culture scene, charitable organizations (such as Rotary and Kiwanis), and churches and spiritual institutions, explained LJTC president Steve Haskins.

While providing an assessment of their groups’ efforts last year, along with plans for 2015, presenters emphasized the importance of citizens becoming engaged in the process — whether by becoming a member of one of their organizations, volunteering to serve on a board or merely raising their voices during monthly meetings, at which representatives from the city, state and federal government are often in attendance to hear concerns.

“We provide a monthly forum at the beginning of our meetings (in which) anybody can come up and speak for two minutes on any subject,” Haskins said. “Sometimes it’s not pleasant, sometimes it’s pretty exciting, but there has to be that place where someone can go and say what they think and have community members listen to them.”

La Jolla Community Planning Association: LJCPA board president Joe LaCava began by underscoring the value of community input. His group, which advises the city on land-use, permit requests and infrastructure projects in La Jolla, averaged about 70 people per meeting last year (including one with almost 120 attendees).

At monthly meetings, anyone can request an item previously recommended or rejected by LJCPA’s various subcommittees be pulled from the consent agenda for further discussion.

“It’s an opportunity to take the recommendations from the joint committees and boards and drill down a little deeper,” LaCava said, noting that last year about 30 percent of the items on the LJCPA’s consent agenda were pulled for further discussion (more than in previous years).

“There’s often criticism citywide about planning groups — that it’s just the same people showing up all the time — but I actually tracked it and we had over 300 different people show up at our meetings because of the diversity of issues that we address,” said LaCava, who is also chair of San Diego’s Community Planners Committee, the umbrella organization overseeing the city’s 42 planning groups, including the LJCPA.

The primary function of the planning groups — whose volunteer board members are essentially doing the city’s work of reviewing and vetting projects, LaCava said — is to implement their community plans. Approved in 2004, La Jolla’s document outlines planning for everything from residential and commercial land uses to public facilities, parks and beaches, mobility, historical preservation and economic development.

“Occasionally an issue will bubble up that effects an entire neighborhood or the community at large and we’ll go in kind of a more proactive mode, set up meetings and try to find out what the real problems are and potential solutions,” LaCava said.

In 2014, the LJCPA and other community planning groups continued to advise city hall on their respective infrastructure priorities for potential inclusion in the city budget (LaCava helped create this framework in 2012; last year it became official city policy).

Hot-button issues for the LJCPA last year included potential installation of additional cell phone antennas at Cliffridge Park in La Jolla Shores, and noise, trash and street parking issues resulting from the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods.

An ad hoc committee of the LJCPA came up with a recommendation that the city strengthen enforcement of its existing regulation of the vacation rental industry — a mantra LaCava said he wants to underscore in 2015: “Less regulation; more enforcement.”

“Easily 80 percent of the phone calls that I get in La Jolla and even on citywide issues are … about the lack of enforcement.,” LaCava said. “We have a good set of rules in our municipal code. What we really need is the enforcement and we don’t have adequate staffing down in the code enforcement section of the city, or even our police department.”

In 2015, LaCava said the LJCPA also hopes to make zoning in La Jolla Shores more predictable, increase public and private funding for infrastructure, and help improve communication between project applicants and City Hall.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches, Inc.: Dan Allen, president of LJP&B, which advises the city’s Park & Recreation Department on plans for La Jolla’s shoreline parks and beaches, noted that a large part of his group’s progress last year — which included plans to remodel and beautify the sidewalk area above Children’s Pool/Casa Beach and replace the shoddy restrooms at Scripps Park with a more modern facility — have come about through public-private partnerships.

“We appreciate the efforts of city staff to work with us, particularly in helping us find further funding opportunities,” he said.

Allen noted that, during the recession, city funding for park maintenance dropped considerably — something his group hopes to rectify this year.

“City Park & Recreation had sunk to passing the hat, asking community groups to pay for fertilizer for their parks. Well, now that the recession is over … we need to bring park maintenance, staffing and operating budgets back to the levels we had enjoyed in earlier years — and that won’t happen without advocacy on the part of the community.”

Allen said LJP&B should be “more diligent” protecting large open spaces under its purview, including Soledad Mountain Park and La Jolla Heights Natural Park, which he said are home to indigenous plants and refuge to a variety of wildlife, though subject to intrusion by power lines, cell phone towers, reservoirs and unplanned trails.

Additional LJP&B priorities for 2015 include repairing posts, chains and sidewalk gaps along Neptune Place at the S-Curve in WindanSea.

Traffic & Transportation: Todd Lesser, chair of La Jolla’s T&T board, said people often complain about La Jolla’s streets without realizing what they can do themselves to remedy some of the problems.

“The city really looks towards the community to mention if there’s a problem. … My job is really going out there and educating the public and telling them what can they do when there’s a problem,” said Lesser, noting that La Jolla was planned as an “exclusive community” 100 years ago — a design that has created many of the transportation challenges his board grapples with today.

“The population has grown significantly. … Most if not every one of our streets is over-capacity (from) what it was designed for,” he said. “We’re dealing with the impact of that, and (T&T) has a constant battle of how to try and fix some of these problems.”

Lesser encouraged people to report potholes on the city’s website, or to bring other transportation-related concerns to his board or the office of San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner.

“We invite that, because we don’t drive on every street and it’s nice to hear from someone who lives there about what some of the problems are,” he said.

La Jolla Village Merchants Association: Claude-Anthony Marengo, LJVMA president and principal of Marengo Morton Architects, touched on his board’s efforts to boost business in the Village. His group is tasked with using an annual assessment on businesses to devise ways to woo business to the Village, such as sprucing up the business district and organizing events.

Beginning his second year as president, Marengo noted that the four-year-old organization (successor of Promote La Jolla) is off to slow start, though he hopes to gain momentum this year by educating the business community on its efforts, and urging business and property owners to keep their spaces clean, uncluttered and trash-free.

“Coming in and taking on the presidency … from an architectural background and design aspect ... I had really big eyes,” he said. “We’re going to try and pick up what I got big-eyed over in 2014, weigh those with our group and see what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go. I think I come more prepared in 2015.”

During the past year, Marengo reported, LJVMA has worked with the city and other government agencies to deal with the ongoing Cove odor smell and will work to create events to promote business in the Village — akin to those formerly under the auspices of Promote La Jolla.

Under the leadership of LJVMA board member Nancy Warwick (of Warwick’s Bookstore), Marengo noted, the organization raised more than $54,000 for its Sparkle & Shine banner program to steam-clean the sidewalks and empty trashcans in La Jolla (which is ongoing).

Marengo said his group also hopes to fund replacement of the Village’s shoddy blue-and-concrete pebble trash cans, though he said they have received resistance from the city.

“When we talked to Park & Rec, they said, ‘Oh, you can’t change those. They have to be a certain model and a certain thing. We want to educate and say, ‘No, you can change those things.’ … Let’s just make it something that you can handle … and let us privately fund it and put it together so that we can have something better for our community, better for our tourists.”

Marengo also reaffirmed his commitment to lure business to the Village by helping owners deal with the permitting process and city bureaucracy that he said has caused some to leave the Village in exasperation.

“They say, ‘It’s not worth it.’ We want to help with that, because it is worth it, and La Jolla is a great place to be and to be a merchant.”

La Jolla Shores Association: LJSA was created in 1966 as the La Jolla Shores Protective Association, “primarily in response to unchecked high-rise development,” said its chair, Tim Lucas.

This year, the 16-member board is hoping to work with the city to erase some of the ambiguities in its development blueprint, the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (created in the 1970s).

The focus of the LJSA, Lucas said, is to “promote projects that are beneficial to our community, as well as provide the general representation of our community to the city and other organizations.

“We don’t get paid for this and we spend a lot of time doing it, but we love our community,” he added, noting that in 2014 the LJSA became the officially recognized rec council for the four parks in its area: Kellogg Park, Laureate Park, Allen Field and Cliffridge Park.

One of LJSA’s key accomplishments last year was working with the lifeguards to revise to city contract with commercial kayak rental operators, and to get the city to fund a long-requested ranger for Kellogg Park (which will also patrol Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove).

“We have large crowds in our park … and many, many safety issues there,” Lucas said. “Sherri Lightner heard our pleas.”

La Jolla Recreation Center: The event also included a presentation by La Jolla Parks & Recreation, Inc. vice-president Cindy Greatrex, who touched on her committee’s efforts overseeing operations at La Jolla Rec Center for the city, and its plans to host a centennial celebration in July for the historic, Irving Gill-designed facility.

For more information on that effort,