Brides say “I don’t” to Wedding Bowl dirt in La Jolla park

The idiom “the grass is always greener on the other side” rings true at The Wedding Bowl in Cuvier Park this year. After a winter El Niño storm, the lush turf on the western side of the ceremony site on Coast Boulevard was reduced to dirt and sand, reported Jacquelyn Mendoza, owner of San Diego Destination Weddings.

She said she first noticed the condition April 8 when she accompanied a couple to their rehearsal ceremony the day before their wedding. “When they saw it they said, ‘This is disappointing, what happened to the grass? Oh well, I guess we have to deal with it,’ ” Mendoza said.

The Wedding Bowl is the No. 1 favorite location for couples getting married in San Diego, Mendoza said. Even the City of San Diego’s website acknowledges it. “It is the most popular spot for weddings along the La Jolla coastline,” the site reads.

Mendoza explained part of Cuvier Park’s success comes from its semi-private setting, about five feet under the public walk. But the other part is the grass. “You get the contrast of colors, the green of the grass, the yellow of the bluffs and the blue ocean ... it makes it so vibrant and pretty, and that’s what couples are looking for,” she said. “When they get there and see everything is dead, it’s disappointing. They really want to be on the grass.”

Cuvier Park is managed by the city. It costs $174 to acquire a permit to celebrate a wedding ceremony there, generating $30,000 annually, said Tim Graham, a city communications officer.

Mendoza said most of her clients come from other places, creating even more revenue. “They come with 40-50 people, they celebrate receptions, they book hotels … It’s huge for the whole county,” she said.

Across the street from the Wedding Bowl is Scripps Inn at 555 Coast Blvd. Front desk supervisor David Scheide said he has noticed a decrease in the amount of weddings booking rooms there. “We replace it with other business, however (a wedding) is guaranteed business,” Scheide said.

The city admits that reservations for Cuvier Park weddings have fallen 6 percent in one year, from 188 ceremonies in 2014-2015 to 177 in 2015-2016. But Graham attributed the decrease to the 40-guest limit at the Wedding Bowl. “More weddings are inviting more than 40 people, which makes Cuvier not an option,” he said.

On June 30 Mendoza received a call from a bride-to-be interested in celebrating her ceremony at Cuvier Park in July. “She said, ‘Some of the photos show it really green, but the current ones show it really has dirt, and I don’t want to get married in the dirt.’ So she ruled that park out.” Mendoza said she offered the caller other options in La Jolla, like Scripps and Calumet parks. “This is business I could lose because of the lack of grass,” she said.

Scheide argued the bigger picture is people come here for the beauty. “The aesthetics of La Jolla draw people from all over the world. If we don’t have a beautiful presentation, people are going to stop coming, like they are with the weddings,” he said.

Both Mendoza and Scheide said they’ve complained to the city about the loss of lawn. Mendoza said she never heard back from them, but Scheide reported receiving an e-mail stating that the Park & Rec Department is going to fertilize the area.

La Jolla Light contacted La Jolla Garden Club member Anne Caprioglio for her thoughts on how fertilizing would work. “I don’t think just throwing fertilizer on an empty soil is going to do much,” she said. “They are probably going to have to add new soil and put in new grass,” she said. That process is called re-sodding.

Grass expert Fausto Palafox, owner of the Mission Hills Nursery said re-sodding includes making sure the area has good irrigation, building up soil and fertilizer, grading the terrain, laying the sod (layers of soil where grass is already growing), rolling it with a special tool to compact the area, verifying the sod root system is making contact with the soil, and watering it three or four times a day for 15 days.

Palafox calculated that contracting out the process for approximately 100 square feet would cost up to $500, labor included.

Scheide suggested, “We have Torrey Pines Golf Course three miles away. Those are city employees who maintain that. They should have some ability to get this park in decent shape very quickly.”

The city’s response to all this came via e-mail: “The King Tides of December 2015 resulted in a significant amount of salty moisture for Cuvier Park, which is not good for the turf. That, coupled with the large amount of use, drought, and limited fertilization resulted in a large amount of stress to the turf. To address this, the city has recently improved the area by aerating and fertilizing the turf, which has resulted in a noticeable improvement. The space was aerated and fertilized again recently, and city staff expects additional improvements with time.

“A major challenge to growing the turf during the busy summer months is that many events are already booked, and this limits staff’s ability to cordon off the area to give the grass a better opportunity to grow. A reduction in foot traffic and usage would be ideal for the grass to grow back quickly, and staff intends to address this after the summer season has ended. The city will continue to do everything that it can to grow additional grass at the park while accommodating the public that have reserved the space for their functions.”