In February, La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc. narrowly voted 8-7–1 against denying issuance of new special-use permits for Scripps Park events that are for-profit and commercialize the park.
It was the culmination of several months of vetting of the controversial issue of public versus private use of world-renowned Scripps Park. The city of San Diego is presently undergoing a master plan update for all of its parks, including Scripps.
The popular grassy park overlooking the ocean, a haven for swimmers, surfers and other recreationalists, is also a big draw for hosting signature community events. The La Jolla Half Marathon and the Concours d’Elegance classic car show in spring have been hosted there for years. The park will also host two returning 2020 events, Fourth of July fireworks and the summer concert series. Scripps Park also hosted the return last fall of the Open Water Swim for all ages, which had been on hiatus for a couple of years.
Parks board members Mary Ellen Morgan and Debbie Beacham have spearheaded a committee studying the question of continued commercialization of Scripps Park, which some argue is a misuse of the park’s primary purpose: public recreation.
“We’re willing to forego the current moratorium on events in Scripps Park with the following requirements: Any new events should be free and have no fences or vendors,” said Morgan. “We already have a good lineup of established events that would not be affected by this new rule.”
Noting the public “pays the taxes for watering and maintenance” of Scripps Park, Morgan added, “We’re just helpers protecting the park, and should not be a group where people come in and ask to exploit the park over and over.”
“We’re willing to take on new events as long as they’re free, open to the public and with no vendors,” added Beacham.
“Sounds good to me,” noted longtime La Jolla park planner Melinda Merryweather. “I’ve always said the park is for the people. We don’t need to pimp out the park.”
“We’ve never actually voted on a [private] parks use moratorium,” pointed out LJPB board member Dan Allen.
“The city’s handbook for special events says groups like ours are advisory in nature and cannot approve, or deny, special events planned, though they may provide important feedback,” said board member Tom Brady. “Why discriminate against nonprofit? What about a for-profit event to fund cystic fibrosis?”
“Scripps is a public park and what we do there should be for the public benefit,” said board member Patrick Ahern. “But sometimes these events do cost money. We should just take on these park-use requests one at a time, make sure they have a public benefit.”
“I don’t want to paint us into a corner,” said board member Bob Evans. “I’d rather see us approve things case-by-case.”
Beacham pointed out other California coastal communities, like Laguna Beach and Monterrey, place restrictions on private use of their public parks.
Jodi Rudick, of La Jolla Village Merchants Association, spoke against blanket restrictions on special events in the park.
“That’s a dangerous place to go,” Rudick argued. “I’m not sure what problem you’re trying to solve.”
Rudick said she researched how many private events were held in Scripps Park annually adding, “We came up with nine events over the 52 weeks of the year.”
“This is an interim thing,” answered Morgan, pointing out modified rules would only be in effect until the city finalizes its master park plan update.