Village Merchants name new director, locate new office and visitor site

By Pat Sherman

The La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA) is moving forward at full steam: It hired a new, full- time executive director and is entering into a tentative lease agreement for a larger office space that also will house a Visitor Center.

Following a closed session discussion at the end of its Aug. 8 meeting, LJVMA board members announced that Sheila Fortune, the former owner of Aquamoree restaurant and a past LJVMA board secretary, will lead the organization as its executive director at an annual salary of $85,000. Fortune stepped in as the interim executive director in May, after the previous executive director, Rosemary Murrieta, stepped down from the position via mutual agreement.

Fortune was part of the volunteer team that helped form the new management organization for the La Jolla Business Improvement District in early 2011. She resigned from the LJVMA board when she closed her business at the end of 2011. “I know with my passion for The Village, coupled with my previous professional expertise, this is going to be a great challenge,” Fortune said. “I can’t wait to start making things happen again for our merchants and the community.”

The association also an- nounced that it is close to signing a lease on a building in The Village that will house both LJVMA’s admin- istrative offices and the La Jolla Visitor Information Center, the latter of which currently occupies a pint- size frontage space near the corner of Herschel Avenue and Prospect Street.

“We don’t have a contract or a lease, but we have an e-mailed agreement with the property owner for a 2,500-square foot, storefront property,” LJVMA board president Phil Coller said. “I don’t think we could find anywhere that would fit the bill better.”

The combined space will offer the LJVMA and the Visitor Center greater visibility and the opportunity to sell merchandise, as well as tickets to local attractions and events. The space will be home to four paid, part-time staff from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (ConVis), and as well as the merchants association’s executive director.

Coller said there are “sufficient monies and income stream from taking over the visitor center management” that would cover the rent. “We expect a substantial increase in revenues from this new (venture),” he said.

The new space would open sometime in December or January.

Other merchants news

Tree trimming:

In response to concerns from the LJVMA about safety issues surrounding untrimmed trees in The Village, Coller said the San Diego City Attorney’s office is drafting an opinion on the city’s liability relating to trees in the public right-of-way. Due to budget constraints, the city ceased trimming the trees about seven years ago.

During the past few years, trees have toppled in The Village, crushing cars and nearly hitting pedestrians. Palm fronds alone can weigh as much as 30 pounds, and frequently dent vehicles when they fall. “It’s not an act of God when you know these things are going to happen,” Coller said.

The city says a full restoration of tree trimming services, including palm trees every year and shade trees every seven years, would cost $2.4 million.

Erin Demorest, a representative with the office of Dist. 1 City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, said the city still trims trees in the public right-of-way that are block- ing city signage or pose an imminent threat to public safety. Notices of specific problem trees should be e-mailed to Sheila Fortune at

Golf tourney opportunities:

LJVMA trustees discussed ways to maximize business in The Village during the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament, July 24-27 at Torrey Pines Golf Course. The annual tourney is part of the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association of America) tour. Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are both confirmed to play.

LJVMA hopes to get people to park in The Village, shuttling back and forth to the event. “They’d come to La Jolla first; It becomes their access point to the event,” Coller said.

At the end of each day’s play, players and spectators would return to The Village between 4 and 5 p.m., with plenty of time to visit local restaurants and merchants. ConVis could possibly partner on a designated “welcome center” for the event, Coller said.

“We think this has a lot of advantages for the businesses of La Jolla, and the PGA are very willing and happy to work with us to pull it off,” he said.

LJVMA Executive Director Sheila Fortune said the PGA expects between 130,000 and 150,000 attendees. The merchants association also hopes to hold Haute La Jolla Nights-style events each night of the tournament, including pub-crawls, scavenger hunts and other events.

“This could be really, really big for The Village,” Fortune said. “It’s up to us to step up and make it happen.”

PROW permits:

Businesses that place tables, flowerpots, planters and other items on sidewalks in the public right-of-way (PROW) are required to obtain a permit from the LJVMA, which is appointed by the city to manage the PROW within the business improvement district. There is an initial fee of $500 for placing tables and chairs in the PROW and $250 for flowerpots, urns or other decorative items. Annual fees thereafter are $250 and $100, respectively. The money goes toward liability insurance for the PROW, which is provided to merchants through the LJVMA.

Coller said that of the roughly 100 businesses that should have a PROW permit, only four currently have one. Businesses not complying with the permit regulations will likely be fined by the city “progressively” within the coming year, he said.

Haute La Jolla Nights:

For the next Haute La Jolla Nights, scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, the LJVMA is encouraging merchants to participate in sidewalk sales to entice visitors by bringing their sales, promotions and giveaways onto the sidewalk in front of their shops.

In July, the LJVMA board voted to spend an additional $5,310 for September’s event, after using the $9,000 initially budgeted for the first two events for directional signage, generators and advertising.

Belvedere allocation:

After a presentation by Jim Alcorn, architect for the Belvedere Promenade project, proposed to enliven and open up a portion of Prospect Street to pedestrians, the board voted to allocate $4,750 for an updated land survey of the project area.

Visitor maps:

The association is working to produce free tourist maps of The Village that would be handed out at the new Visitor Center/LJVMA offices, as well as restaurants and shops throughout La Jolla, board trustee Robert Lane announced.

Flower baskets:

Hanging flower baskets within The Village, currently maintained by the LJVMA for an estimated $25,000 annually, will not be maintained after August, as the program has been deemed too costly to continue. The association said it would likely remove the baskets or ask merchants to maintain the baskets adjacent their spaces.