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Polishing Up the Jewel : La Jollans Seek Ways to Add Luster to Enclave

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Times Staff Writer

It just wouldn’t play in Peoria. The very idea of it would have ‘em rolling their eyes in Modesto. In Cleveland, they’d kill to have such problems.

Yes, it’s true. The people of La Jolla, widely considered one of the most aesthetically alluring spots on the California coast, if not in the Western world, think their town needs a little sprucing up.

Now wait a minute. This tony, seafront hideaway in need of a make over? C’mon.

Odd as it might seem to the leaders in far more woebegone burgs, the well-heeled residents of La Jolla have been busy of late meeting with architects and urban designers to brainstorm and craft proposals for public works projects they suggest are needed to enrich their community.

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Want to Enhance the Jewel

“La Jolla is already the jewel of San Diego, and we’re going to try to enhance it,” said Rob Whittemore, president of the La Jolla Town Council, the group pushing for the upgrades.

In recent weeks, community leaders have held a series of workshops and Town Hall-type meetings to gauge the feelings of the populace and produce ideas for upgrading the streets, sidewalks, parks and other public areas in the downtown core of La Jolla.

Along with gripes about block-busting growth and monumental traffic tie-ups that have descended on the upscale hamlet in recent years, residents and experts offered up a list of improvements they would like to see, ranging from planting more trees along major thoroughfares to the creation of a community valet service for better use of available downtown parking.

Several of the proposals are downright costly, like shutting down the seaside end of Girard Avenue, a stretch of asphalt known as “the Dip,” to create a terraced park. Some residents, meanwhile, suggested narrowing streets and widening sidewalks throughout the downtown to “reclaim” the area for pedestrians. At this stage, there is no dollar figure for the majority of the projects.

Other ideas could prove easier to achieve, like erecting a community bulletin board, providing an information kiosk at a prime downtown spot, or more readily highlighting the narrow paths and steps leading down from the commercial swirl of Prospect Avenue to the sea.

“What we want to do is enhance what is already beautiful and mitigate what is bad to maintain the character that makes La Jolla such a wonderful place for people to work and play,” said Gayle Pate, one of the organizers of the effort.

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Question of Finances

But a few snags may loom in the path of this greening of La Jolla, most notably the question of how to pay for some of the more lofty improvements that have been proposed.

Though blessed with a citizenry rich in both bucks and brains, La Jolla has traditionally balked at the prospect of special taxes to fund public infrastructure improvements. In recent years, two efforts to form districts to assess fees for landscaping improvements have been dashed, a factor that may not bode well for the current proposals.

Nonetheless, backers of the Town Council’s efforts remain optimistic that money can be tapped and community support will continue to flower.

“Everyone who lives in La Jolla feels strongly about this place and what should be done to it,” said David Raphael Singer, an architect and a chief backer of the plans. “One can look on that as a time bomb or a magnificent creative force. We’ve chosen the latter.”

Although he acknowledged that funding will be “one of the biggest challenges,” Singer said that a variety of sources could be tapped, among them state park bond money and grants from the state Coastal Conservancy, which helped organize the recent design workshop in La Jolla.

Public Opinion Up Front

Town Council leaders say the very process that is being used to cull ideas from the community should breed support. As Whittemore sees it, the effort is a profound shift away from the traditional method of planning community improvements, putting public involvement at the front end of the process instead of the end.

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“It’s a much more palatable setup,” Whittemore said. “You have a large consensus right up front, rather than a plan drawn up by an expert that is presented at a meeting where the public then takes potshots at it.”

Indeed, many La Jollans seem eager to put their money where their ideas are. At one recent meeting, a few participants grew so excited while talking about various proposals that they whipped out their checkbooks and dashed off a contribution to the cause, according to Tony Ciani, chairman of the Town Council subcommittee pushing the project.

Community leaders say some of the less costly proposals may be undertaken in the months to come, while other ideas will take longer to realize. “This will be ongoing for

many, many years,” Whittemore said.

Nonetheless, the effort has already had an impact on one city public works project planned for La Jolla.

The city recently allocated $400,000 for improvements to the bluff-top park along Coast Boulevard, but the design that was produced failed to win plaudits from La Jollans.

Searching for a compromise, city officials agreed last week to set aside the blueprint and begin from scratch. Plans now call for a workshop in October to gather ideas from the community on how best to refurbish the park.

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Environment a Key Issue

It may not have made headlines, but for the La Jollans it was a step in the right direction.

“What the community is trying to do is save as much of the natural environment of La Jolla before it disappears,” said Peter Brand, a Coastal Conservancy project manager helping to steer the project. “They’re understandably afraid of becoming another Newport Beach.”

Many of those fears stem from the bulky office buildings that have risen on downtown blocks, he said. For the interim, proposals have been made to provide trees and other landscaping to soften the harsh exteriors of some buildings.

In the long run, Brand said he hoped that a “standard of excellence” could be set by the public improvements now being formulated, a standard that would influence private development in the future.

Brand noted that most of the ideas being tossed about will benefit not only residents, but also visitors. In particular, the proposals will be a boon to pedestrians, Brand said, making La Jolla “a walking experience, a place where people can get out of their cars and shop and go to the beach.”

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