Group discusses retooled environment report on Hillel Jewish student center
By Pat Sherman
An ad hoc committee of the La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) met at La Jolla Rec Center Feb. 27 to discuss a revised, draft environmental impact report (EIR) on the Hillel Center for Jewish Life.
The faith-based student center is proposed for .76 acres adjacent the UC San Diego campus, at the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Village Drive. During the past decade, the size and scope of the project have been reduced from 12,000 square feet to about 6,500 square feet to assuage neighbors’ concerns.
According to Hillel’s executive director, Michael Rabkin, the EIR was largely “re-circulated” to include a historic evaluation of an adjacent residence used as Hillel’s offices (at 8976 Cliffridge Ave.)
The LJCPA denied approval of the project early last summer. Concerns raised last month by the five-member ad hoc committee and a handful of La Jolla Shores residents included its potential to disrupt the architectural unity of the surrounding residential neighborhood and a driveway they say is located precariously near the intersection of Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Village Drive.
The committee also opined that the latest EIR does not take into account all the cumulative impacts of project — chief among them, the development of the Venter Institute across Torrey Pines Road. Scheduled to open later this year, the 45,000-square-foot genetic research laboratory would include three or four additional buildings — each adding its own traffic impacts to the area, the committee noted.
Julie Hamilton, an attorney representing Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use, the group opposing the project, said the EIR refers to the Venter site only as “an undeveloped lot.”
Section 15130 (A) of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires, in part, that project applicants such as Hillel include in the EIR “an adequate discussion” of significant cumulative impacts of past, present or probable future projects, including those outside their control, Hamilton said.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Shores’ residents, an appellate court ruled in 2009 that Hillel was required by law to comply with CEQA mandates.
“The Venter Institute, by law, has to be considered under cumulative impacts,” Hamilton said.
Rabkin said Venter developers conducted their own traffic study, which can be referenced by the public.
Other concerns raised during the meeting included whether allowing the Hillel center would open the floodgates for similar religious student centers in single-family residential zones adjacent UCSD. Of the 530 student groups at UCSD, 60 are religious in nature.
The LJCPA has questioned whether the Hillel center’s primary use would be as a religious institution, which is allowed in a single-family residential zone, or a student center with an institutional use, which is not permitted.
There are currently three faith-based centers adjacent the UCSD campus, including a Mormon facility on La Jolla Farms Road, though they are smaller than the proposed Hillel center and none are within the La Jolla Shores Planned District. The La Jolla Shores PDO, or development blueprint, states that religious institutions must be used primarily for religious purposes.
Should the center not be approved, Hillel has proposed two alternative projects for the site, one of them including the exclusion of the building to be used as a library and chapel, while maintaining its current offices in the house on Cliffridge Avenue. A six-space parking lot would be added to its backyard.
Hamilton contended that the house is larger than the proposed structure Hillel would eliminate, making the replacement project larger than what is proposed. The parking spaces could be in violation of the city’s “mini-dorm” ordinance, should the office revert to residential use in the future, she said.
Hamilton also said it is impossible to ascertain the location of an alternative site for the center as stated in the EIR, without prior knowledge of its location (on a hillside between the La Jolla Playhouse complex and La Jolla Village Drive).
“If you don’t know where it is, you will never figure it out from this document,” she said.
Though Rabkin said 80 percent of Hillel attendees would walk to the center from campus, Hamilton and committee members questioned whether that is accurate, given that students live and attend classes throughout campus, making walking a less desirable option for many.
LJCPA trustee Phil Merten provided comments that were read during the meeting, including his concern that setbacks for the project — 10 to 12 feet between the building and the street — are far shorter than that of setbacks for adjacent residences, further disrupting the neighborhood’s architectural unity.
As an example of how the center conforms with sur- rounding architecture, the EIR cites the Playhouse com- plex across La Jolla Village Drive. However, Hamilton said those buildings are largely blocked from view by trees and vegetation and thus do not create a legitimate visual impact.
“You don’t know they’re there,” she said. “It’s very misleading.”
Hamilton also said the EIR estimates the maximum number of the students attending the center at any given time to be around 100, though the center has a capacity of 200 persons.
“Isn’t their goal to get more students participating in their organization and their activities?” she questioned.
Speaking with the La Jolla Light, Rabkin said Hillel’s proposed capacity is split between various rooms, and that the center could not accommodate an assembly of 200 at one time. He said large assemblies would continue to be held on campus, at venues such as Price Center Ballroom.
“We’ll be using this facility for smaller gatherings because we want to be respectful of the neighbors,” he said. “That’s the whole point of reducing the (project) scale.”
Though the EIR does acknowledge an increase in noise levels, the committee questioned whether it would exceed that which is currently allowed for single- family neighborhoods — about 50 decibels between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (the amount generated by an air conditioner or washing machine), and 45 decibels from 7 to 10 p.m.
Additional concerns involved the removal of two-hour public parking spaces along La Jolla Scenic Drive and on a cul de sac to be replaced with public parkland.
In an e-mailed statement, Rabkin said “Hillel stands by the project as proposed in the draft EIR, as well as proposed alternatives outlined in the document.
“The City Council has the information it needs to make an informed decision,” he said.
The deadline for public comment on the EIR is March 11. The document can be located online at www.bit.ly/VnSjEE by typing Hillel in the search bar.
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