La Jolla: ‘We got gamed’ by UCSD’s MESOM planners
by Mariko Lamb
Oct 10, 2012 | 2515 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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During the planning stage of UCSD’s Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) laboratory, community members were assured the nearly 40,000-square-foot research building would not block ocean views from La Jolla Shores Drive.

The project’s environmental report stated: “The proposed project has been designed such that the topography of the site would conceal almost all of the building below the grade of the road. No significant ocean views are blocked, and no significant adverse effects to aesthetics would occur as a result of the proposed project.”

According to community mem- bers, however, the building does, in fact, impair a substantial portion of the ocean views.

At the La Jolla Community Planning Association’s (LJCPA) Oct. 4 meeting, representatives of the MESOM project were blasted by trustees and members of the public who objected to the project currently under construction at the site, calling it an “eyesore,” “horrendous” and “misleading.”

“I don’t think there’s anything more special than that drive down La Jolla Shores [Drive],” said resident Rob Whittemore, who regularly takes his dogs walking along the route adjacent to the university. “I find it just horrendous what’s happened and I wish there was something in the long run that could be done to fix it.”

Trustees at the meeting shared Whittemore’s sentiments.

“I’m in shock and in awe of what you [UCSD officials] have done,” said trustee Orrin Gabsch. “I truly cannot believe how anybody at the university can drive or walk that [street] and look at what they’ve done to this community.

“This community has supported the university, the university has done some great things, but this is a real eyesore, and now we’re stuck with this for many years to come,” he said.

Trustee Jim Fitzgerald questioned how the project could get so far into the construction phase without anyone noticing that it diverged from the renderings shown to the public through outreach efforts at two La Jolla Shores Association meetings.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Fitzgerald. “That presentation to us said we wouldn’t lose any significant views, and we lost them permanently. I think you also owe the community an explanation as to why the building ... did not come close to the initial rendering.”

Brad Werdick, director of UCSD’s Physical and Community Planning arm, spoke on behalf of the MESOM laboratory project at the meeting. He assured trustees the building is being constructed according to the plans that were permitted by the California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over the university’s projects.

“Even if you go to the original photo simulations, none of them demonstrate there’s absolutely no blockage of white water and blue water views. In those original photo simulations, there were blockages,” said Werdick. “There was never an intent to deceive the public. Our architects did the best job they possibly could to insert a 3-D graphic into an existing photo.”

Trustee Nancy Manno, who went to the initial planning presentation at the university, said the community has been cheated.

“There was no question the view was going to be impacted, but my personal opinion was that we would, as a community, as a society, benefit so tremendously from what was going to occur in that building that I was perfectly willing to give up what I thought as a small impact on the view,” she said. “You were just not truthful, and I am absolutely outraged.”

Werdick said additional view corridors have been opened up by eliminating 28 eucalyptus trees on the west side of the street, replaced with an equal number of Torrey pines on the east side of the street.

“To open up additional views, we identified three different areas on the UCSD campus to remove some non-native vegetation to open up key vantage points,” Werdick said. In addition, a deed restriction has been written to assure that no future development will be taller than La Jolla Shores Drive on that property.

“In our discussion with the Coastal Commission, we really wanted to establish some better guidelines to direct our development in the future,” he said. “What we came up with was to limit future building height to the elevation of La Jolla Shores Drive.”

Attempts to appease trustees’ concerns didn’t mitigate the damage they said has already been done.

“For 25 years, I’ve been coming down that hill twice a day,” said Whittemore. “I’m just shocked at the discussion we’re having about how much of that view we’re going to trade off by having trees taken down in other places and buildings put up in another. I don’t think it’s a fair tradeoff.”

The deed restriction, trustees said, would not quell the community’s outrage.

“It really doesn’t help that you’re putting something level with La Jolla Shores Drive,” said trustee Dan Courtney. “If it’s being built on the bluff 100 feet away from the street, it will still block the sightline to the cove.”

At the conclusion of the appraisal of the project, trustees passed a motion directing the LJCPA president to send a letter to Mayor Jerry Sanders, Gov. Jerry Brown, the Coastal Commission, the UCSD chancellor, regents and its president, San Diego Development Services and the state architect to request the height of the laboratory conform with the elevation represented in the renderings.

“We’ve just lost a tremendous asset,” said trustee Tim Lucas. “We’re all volunteers on these planning groups. If we don’t have renderings that reflect the entire project — not just the most favorable viewpoint — we’re lost. We, the public, got gamed on this.”
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