It was a rally that could happen only in La Jolla, and everything appeared to be going beautifully.
Replete with festive balloons, a jazz quartet and a set of singing twins, more than 300 people turned out Sunday afternoon to show support for a proposal that would establish a “cultural zone” in a six-block area of La Jolla. The proposed zone, aimed at six institutions clustered at the intersection of Silverardo and Prospect streets, is designed to make it impossible for places like the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art to sell their valuable land to condominium developers.
Community activist Sue Oxley, who spearheaded the drive that she says “will preserve the things we like about La Jolla,” was pleased with the results. The crowd, mingling in front of the La Jolla Recreation Center, was buzzing in agreement about how La Jollans must stop the encroachment of ugly high-rise condominiums and preserve its historic sites.
Then Councilman Bill Mitchell dropped by.
Wearing a tartan kilt, Mitchell stepped up on the stage and told the group that “there must be some kind of compromise we can reach without stripping these institutions of their property rights.”
More than a few La Jollans were agape.
The institutions he was talking about--Bishop’s School, St. James-By-the-Sea Episcopal and La Jolla Presbyterian churches, the recreation center and the museum--are exactly the ones Oxley and her group have indicated should be be included in the cultural zone.
“I will not seize property,” Mitchell said. “I want exactly what they want, except I don’t want to injure people.”
“The appropriate use of the property is cultural and that is what we want to preserve,” fumed Judith Munk, after hearing Mitchell’s comments. “Nobody wants to seize property.”
The zoning proposal is under study by a volunteer task force and eventually would be considered by the city’s planning department and ultimately the city council. So far, about 5,000 La Jollans have signed petitions endorsing the idea, Oxley said.
The controversy revolves around the contemporary museum and its 2.2-acre site at Silverado and Prospect streets. In January, the museum’s trustees were considering moving out of La Jolla to larger quarters in downtown San Diego.
Even though the museum’s trustees have since dropped the idea, Oxley and other community activists feared that the museum would sell its property, which has a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and is valued at more than $10 million, to developers that would raze the structure and replace it with high-density condominiums.
Under the area’s current zoning, the site could house about 100 condominiums.
Hugh Davies, director of the museum, quietly passed out flyers at the rally explaining that the museum has no intentions of leaving its site of 44 years.
“The chances of the museum moving are virtually nil,” he said. “We like the view and people like to come here and look at art. Why would we want to move to a warehouse in El Cajon.”
The issue, he said, is equity. Because the property is so valuable, the museum can use that value as collateral for loans for, perhaps, an expansion or more pieces of art.
“That zoning proposal would tie our hands,” he said. “Anything that ties our hands will restrict our ability to raise funds.”