For subscribers: There's a new push for La Jolla to secede. But why now? And who might benefit? (2023)


A new effort to make La Jolla its own city appears to be more formidable than previous drives for independence and is being spurred by a more complicated mix of motivations.

Efforts to make La Jolla its own city separate from San Diego date back to the 1940s and emerge roughly once a decade. But previous tries have lacked funding, stopped short of proposing specific boundaries and typically focused on one or two issues.

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Community leaders behind the latest effort have already paid a consultant for a financial analysis they expect to unveil this summer, and this spring, they released detailed maps of the proposed city of La Jolla.


This time, they are motivated in part by decaying infrastructure they say San Diego doesn’t have the capacity to fix, neglected amenities like parks and concerns that San Diego’s efforts to spur more dense housing could damage La Jolla’s character.

But their campaign is focused less on those grievances than on how they argue secession would benefit not just La Jolla, but the entire city of San Diego.

For the effort to succeed, they must secure approval from a majority of voters in both La Jolla and then the entire city of San Diego.

Their focus on how the rest of San Diego would benefit from La Jolla seceding is where things get complicated.

In recent years, San Diego has made social equity a top City Hall goal, and it plans to prioritize boosting the city’s most historically neglected and underserved neighborhoods, particularly those south of state Route 94.

The City Council has adopted new policies during the last two years that shift infrastructure, parks and library funding away from wealthier areas like La Jolla toward those long-neglected neighborhoods.



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The city is adding equity-centered coaches, new software, training for decision-makers and a 40-page equity guide.

Leaders of the latest push for La Jolla independence say those new and controversial policies haven’t played a role in their desire to secede — but they also say there is a better way for La Jolla to help other parts of San Diego.

Instead of transferring tax dollars and developer fees from La Jolla to underserved areas of San Diego, they say they want to simply remove from San Diego’s to-do list all the infrastructure and maintenance challenges that come with an older neighborhood like La Jolla.

“You would be taking an old area with old infrastructure out of the mix and loosening up money for the city to spend in areas that desperately need it,” said Janie Emerson, a leader of the latest effort.

La Jollans could then solve their neighborhood’s infrastructure problems by approving a general obligation bond that would provide a windfall of upfront capital that La Jolla property owners would pay back over decades.

“Floating bonds would be great once we’re a city,” said Trace Wilson, another leader of the independence effort.


San Diego officials have talked for years about solving the city’s infrastructure problems with a bond measure — but the need for hard-to-achieve two-thirds approval from voters has discouraged them from putting anything on the ballot.

For subscribers: There's a new push for La Jolla to secede. But why now? And who might benefit? (2)

La Jolla leaders say enough voters there would likely support a bond restricted to the new city of La Jolla because they would know the money would be spent only on projects in their neighborhood.

They said another reason La Jolla residents would support a bond is what they say is a widespread local sense that, despite the area’s glitzy image, the neighborhood is crumbling.

“The image of La Jolla as this golden jewel on the hill where everything is hunky dory and our streets are paved with diamonds is absolutely not true,” Emerson said.

She said some streetlights in La Jolla Shores have been out for two years with no fix in sight, major streets are riddled with potholes, many alleys in Bird Rock remain unpaved and 30 percent of La Jolla lacks sidewalks.

Diane Kane, another leader of the independence effort, said that disappointment over decaying infrastructure is coupled with frustration that the city has focused less in recent years on neighborhood services and maintenance in the neighborhood.

“People want their trash picked up, they want their restrooms clean, they want the parks spiffed and they want the potholes fixed,” Kane said.


For subscribers: There's a new push for La Jolla to secede. But why now? And who might benefit? (3)

A woman and child walk on the Coast Walk trail in La Jolla. Leaders of the neighborhood’s independence effort, who need citywide support to succeed, are pitching the push as beneficial to the city overall.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Many leaders in neighboring communities say they’ve purposely stayed out of La Jolla’s independence efforts. Others say they can understand the frustration, but also have concerns about its impact.

Corey Bruins, Ocean Beach Town Council president, says frustrations with maintenance efforts and lack of infrastructure funds aren’t confined to La Jolla, but no other neighborhoods are talking about secession.

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“At the end of the day, every neighborhood is going to feel that way,” Bruins said. “I don’t think that I’ve talked to a community leader in San Diego who feels like they’re getting what they want from the city.”

Nicholas Reed, chair of the Clairemont Mesa Community Planning Group just east of La Jolla, said his neighborhood is just as frustrated as community leaders in its western neighbor.


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Because most of San Diego’s neighborhoods were built in the 1960s and 1970s, many are now facing major problems with infrastructure that was designed to last about 50 years.

Marcella Bothwell, who chairs the Pacific Beach Planning Group, said La Jolla leaving now would be particularly bad timing for the rest of the city.

“I would be sorry to see them go, especially with our equity push,” she said.

Emerson, one of the La Jolla independence effort leaders, said giving La Jolla leaders local control would help bolster the broader region’s status as a tourist destination.

She pointed to issues with standing water in the restrooms at La Jolla Shores last summer. “Your choices were to stand in liquid up to your ankles, go in the park or go in the ocean,” she said. “With social media, it’s not going to take too long for that to get out: ‘Don’t go to San Diego — their beaches are awful.’”

She said letting things continue as they are would hurt the whole region.


“We think this is going to be a broad-based approach to solve problems for the city of San Diego,” Wilson added. “It’s not just about La Jolla.”

For subscribers: There's a new push for La Jolla to secede. But why now? And who might benefit? (5)

People explore the tide pools at low tide at La Jolla Shores. Proponents of cityhood for La Jolla point to the state of its infrastructure, including the bathrooms at the public beach.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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Some advocates in other neighborhoods are skeptical that they would benefit from La Jolla leaving the city.

Barry Pollard leads the Urban Collaborative Project, an outreach program that works to address disparities within southeastern San Diego communities. He said the secession effort’s timing — coming as city funds are being directed to underserved areas — suggested it may be motivated by the city’s emphasis on equity, and its effects on La Jollans.

“They’re starting to experience slower response times to get to those potholes fixed,” he said of La Jolla. “Welcome to the club.”

He noted that the neighborhood generates a lot of funds for the city, much of which goes to underserved communities, and that independence would threaten that.


“That would be taking a lot of money away from communities, especially south of (Interstate) 8,” he said. “So that bothers me.”


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The secession movement’s focus on potential benefits beyond La Jolla is likely motivated by the requirement under state law to win approval from voters throughout the city, which previous studies have shown gets more tax revenue from La Jolla than it spends there.

It’s also possible La Jolla independence leaders could attempt to get around that 2000 state law, the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act, however — by seeking either an outright repeal in Sacramento or special legislation exempting La Jolla from it.

Leaders of the independence movement said their effort has nothing to do with a recent sharp partisan shift at San Diego City Hall, now controlled entirely by Democrats after many years of divided government.

But they said the effort does have something to do with a slew of recent city legislation that aims to solve the housing crisis by loosening zoning rules, giving developers new incentives to build high-density housing and making rules for backyard units the most lenient in the state.



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La Jolla hasn’t experienced the impact of many of those changes yet, because in that neighborhood they require lengthy California Coastal Commission approval after City Council approval. But leaders of the effort say they’re concerned.

“It’s part of the equation,” Emerson said.

Wilson said he was also frustrated that the city’s blueprint for La Jolla’s future growth, called a community plan, hasn’t been updated since 2014 and won’t be any time soon.

Those plans typically get updated only once every 30 years, but Wilson believes the 2014 update was not ambitious or thorough enough. He said new plans in neighboring communities, such as Mira Mesa and University City, take what he considers a more a sophisticated approach to absorbing future growth.


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Emerson said she’s also been frustrated by the city’s lack of planning for sea-level rise, which has a particularly strong impact on La Jolla with its many miles of coastline.

After the ongoing financial analysis is unveiled this summer, leaders of the independence movement must submit their secession proposal to the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, a county agency that oversees community secessions and incorporations.

LAFCO approval would likely come with a recommendation for a financial arrangement — essentially a kind of municipal alimony, where La Jolla would pay San Diego millions per year for a certain number of years to compensate San Diego for lost tax revenue.

Then would come the public votes, one with just residents of the proposed city of La Jolla and then one with voters from all of the city of San Diego.


Is La Jolla trying to leave San Diego? ›

LA JOLLA, Calif. — A proposal is in the works that would separate the community of La Jolla from San Diego. If separated, La Jolla would work as its own city, instead of a community within the City of San Diego.

Why does La Jolla want to be its own city? ›

Association for the City of La Jolla President Trace Wilson said La Jolla becoming its own city will benefit not only La Jolla but also “all of San Diego.” “It'll be an economic uplift for the entire region ... and an economic and social uplift for the city of San Diego,” he said.

Is La Jolla a separate city from San Diego? ›

Due to its importance as a visitor destination, the California Coastal Act designated La Jolla as a special community of regional and state-wide significance. This community of about 32,000 residents across 5,700 acres retains its own small-town character and civic pride while remaining a part of the City of San Diego.

Is La Jolla a good place to raise a family? ›

La Jolla is a neighborhood in San Diego, California with a population of 25,742. La Jolla is in San Diego County and is one of the best places to live in California. Living in La Jolla offers residents a dense suburban feel and most residents own their homes.

What is so special about La Jolla? ›

It has about 40,000 inhabitants and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. La Jolla, famous for seals and sea lions resting in the sun on the beach and rocks in front of the town, is one of the most popular tourist resorts in the county.

Is La Jolla a wealthy area? ›

With its unparalleled beauty, refined amenities, and a vibrant cultural scene, La Jolla offers a coveted haven for those seeking the epitome of wealthy living in San Diego, California.

Do any celebrities live in San Diego? ›

Rancho Santa Fe has been a favorite haunt of Bing Crosby and Howard Hughes. Let's not forget about Phil Mickelson, Bill Gates, and Jenny Craig. The Carlsbad area was once home to Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. You still might find celebrity resident, Tony Hawk shredding through the scenery.

Who owns La Jolla Beach? ›

Originally opened in 1927 as the La Jolla Beach & Yacht Club, Frederick William Kellogg (known as F.W. Kellogg) purchased the property on August 19, 1935, transferring all of its assets to himself and his wife, Florence Scripps Kellogg.

Why does everyone want to live in San Diego? ›

There are many reasons to love San Diego, and one of the best is that many of the city's neighborhoods are so walkable. Being able to walk to the beach, grocery store, bank and more is fantastic, especially when the weather is so gorgeous. The best places to walk in San Diego include the following neighborhoods.

What is the difference between La Jolla and San Diego? ›

Is La Jolla, California a city? No, La Jolla is part of the City of San Diego. The California Coastal Act designates La Jolla, California as a special community due to its importance as a visitor destination and likely due to the world-renowned institutions like UC San Diego and the Salk Institute that call it home.

Can you live in La Jolla without a car? ›

La Jolla. La Jolla is one of the best places to live for people who are thinking about moving to San Diego and don't want to buy a car. This is because the area is on the beach, and there are plenty of other things to do in this area besides visiting the water.

What is the average income in La Jolla CA? ›

What are the median and average incomes in LA Jolla? The average annual household income in LA Jolla is $197,717, while the median household income sits at $125,636 per year. Residents aged 25 to 44 earn $110,951, while those between 45 and 64 years old have a median wage of $151,920.

What is a comfortable income to live in San Diego? ›

The data used in the study analyzed the cost of living in each city as of 2022. For California cities like Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Diego, a single person must make more than $76,000 to “live comfortably,” the data shows.

Where is the most affordable place to live in San Diego? ›

1 - City Heights

One of the reasons City Heights is more affordable than other areas in San Diego is its diverse housing stock. The neighborhood is home to a variety of apartment complexes, duplexes, and small single-family homes, catering to different budget ranges.

How would you describe La Jolla? ›

La Jolla (/lə ˈhɔɪə/ lə HOY-ə, American Spanish: [la ˈxoʝa]) is a hilly, seaside special community within San Diego, occupying 7 miles (11 km) of curving coastline along the Pacific Ocean.

Is La Jolla the most expensive city? ›

For the second straight year, La Jolla is the nation's most expensive housing market, according to Coldwell Banker's home price index.

What does La Jolla mean in English? ›

Despite the word “jolla” sounding Spanish, it's not a real word. The Spanish word “joya”, which is similar in pronunciation to jolla, translates to Jewel. Historians believe that sometime in the 19th century when Spanish colonials arrived on the land, they accidentally called it joya. The name has stuck ever since.

What is the richest city in San Diego? ›

8 Richest Neighborhoods in San Diego
  • Mission Hills.
  • Bankers Hill.
  • Kensington.
  • Coronado.
  • Point Loma.
  • La Jolla.
  • Torrey Pines.
  • Sabre Springs.
May 7, 2023

Is La Jolla a safe place to live? ›

La Jolla. Regarded as a gorgeous, safe, and affluent beachfront community, La Jolla has a population of 29,356 and a crime rate of 27% lower than the California average. Residents will feel safe knowing that violent crimes are especially rare in the neighborhood.

Where is the richest place to live in San Diego? ›

Carmel Canyon

It is a planned coastal community and is among one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in both San Diego and even in the United States. With households having a median income of $334,872, Carmel Canyon ranks 171st in U.S. wealthiest neighborhoods. The community is gorgeous and is kept that way.

What are people from San Diego called? ›

San Diego
DemonymSan Diegan
Time zoneUTC−08:00 (PST)
• Summer (DST)UTC−07:00 (PDT)
ZIP Codes92101–92124, 92126–92132, 92134–92140, 92142, 92143, 92145, 92147, 92149–92155, 92158–92161, 92163, 92165–92179, 92182, 92186, 92187, 92190–92199
41 more rows

Where do celebs stay in San Diego? ›

The red roof of this historic San Diego hotel has become one of the city's icons. The roster of Hollywood celebrities, U.S. Presidents, and other dignitaries who have stayed at the Hotel del Coronado since its opening in 1888 is nothing short of impressive.

What town do most celebrities live in? ›

1. California

Whether you're in music, film, or even something a little more exotic, California offers the most opportunities for people looking to live a star-studded life. The most common city for people in entertainment to live in is (Duh!) Los Angeles—specifically Hollywood.

What is the most expensive area in La Jolla? ›

Prominently located at the top of the Country Club neighborhood overlooking the picturesque Village toward amazingly vast panoramic ocean views, the iconic Foxhill Estate is among La Jolla's largest and most legendary residential properties, on 6.24 acres with a recently updated and expanded 20,000+ SF main home and ...

What is the most expensive neighborhood in La Jolla? ›

The 32-acre property once known as Foxhill Estate is now on the market for $49 million. At that price, the coastal compound is the most expensive property in the desirable seaside village of La Jolla, CA.

Is La Jolla Cove man made? ›

The seven La Jolla Cove caves were carved out from a 200-foot high cliff of Cretaceous-age sandstone — meaning they are about 75 million years old and one of the oldest geographical landmarks in the area.

Do celebrities live in La Jolla? ›

While Los Angeles is the home of Hollywood where film stars work, places like La Jolla, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, and the surrounding area are where many of those same celebrities prefer to call home.

Is La Jolla the most expensive City? ›

For the second straight year, La Jolla is the nation's most expensive housing market, according to Coldwell Banker's home price index.

Who is the owner of La Jolla? ›

Ryan Warden - Owner - La Jolla | LinkedIn.

What is the richest suburb in San Diego? ›

Torrey Pines

Households in this northern, coastal neighborhood have a median income of $408,266. Torrey Pines ranks as the 44th wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States. READ: San Diego vs. San Francisco: Which California City is Best in 2022 | 2023?

What is San Diego most expensive city? ›

A new SmartAsset study ranks San Diego second highest, just under San Francisco, NBC 7's Kelvin Henry reports. A new SmartAsset study shows it requires $79,324 after taxes to live comfortably in the San Diego metro area. "America's Finest City" ranks second on the list of the 25 Largest Metro Areas.

Who is the richest family in San Diego? ›

The wealthiest person in San Diego

At number 727 on the global billionaire list is Gwendolyn Sontheim Meyer. Her wealth increased from $3 billion in 2020 to $4 billion in 2021.

How much do you need to make in San Diego to live comfortably? ›

The data used in the study analyzed the cost of living in each city as of 2022. For California cities like Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Diego, a single person must make more than $76,000 to “live comfortably,” the data shows.

What is upper class income in San Diego? ›

As of May 28, 2023, the average annual pay for the Upper Class jobs category in San Diego is $67,000 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $32.21 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,288/week or $5,583/month.

What does Jolla mean in English? ›

Despite the word “jolla” sounding Spanish, it's not a real word. The Spanish word “joya”, which is similar in pronunciation to jolla, translates to Jewel. Historians believe that sometime in the 19th century when Spanish colonials arrived on the land, they accidentally called it joya. The name has stuck ever since.

Is La Jolla expensive to live? ›

The average cost of living in La Jolla is $2018, which is in the top 11% of the most expensive cities in the world, ranked 1058th out of 9294 in our global list, 935th out of 2202 in the United States, and 212th out of 319 in California.


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