San Diego City Council unanimously approves Hillel Center project for La Jolla

After more than two hours of debate and public testimony — and 17 years of processing — the Glickman Hillel Center for Jewish Life was unanimously approved in San Diego City Council chambers on Oct. 3.

District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry made the motion to support staff recommendations to approve all actions necessary to proceed with the construction of the facility.

Bry added two provisions to staff recommendations with her motion: one to prohibit future expansion of the Hillel facility and the other to form an advisory committee to address noise, traffic and parking (to expire within five years with an option to extend).

The Hillel Center project, which would serve students of the nearby UC San Diego, would construct a three-building, 6,479 square-foot religious facility at 9009 La Jolla Scenic Drive North at La Jolla Village Drive.

The center will offer religious programming for Jewish holidays and festivals, programs relating to Israel as the Jewish homeland and provide community service opportunities. UC San Diego’s Hillel currently operates out of a house near the planned site, and will continue to do so until the new facility is built. At that time, meetings held at Hillel would move to the new site. Expected attendance would cap at 100 per day, and no more than 250 during special events and holidays.

Those in favor spoke personally about the impact Hillel has had on their lives, including current UC San Diego Hillel executive director Rabbi David Singer, who said he “became a rabbi because of Hillel.” Proponents further argued the facility would serve as a visual, acoustical and physical barrier between the University and the neighborhood.

Opponents stated their concerns with what they referred to as a “student center” near residential neighborhoods, and associated noise, traffic and parking. The project was voted down at the local community advisory group level, including the La Jolla Community Planning Association and La Jolla Shores Association, for several years.

Bry, as the Council representative from La Jolla, said she sees both sides of the situation, including neighborhood concerns that Hillel is perceived as a student center. However, she said, “Hillel is clearly a religious organization and meets planning and zoning standards,” she said.

In Council Chambers, many members stated their support of the project.

For example, District 7 Council member Scott Sherman said. “A lot of people have put a lot of time in this. At the end of the day, the applicant has met the requirements the City has asked of them. I know we’re all afraid of change … but at the end of the day, we don’t institute change with the intent of screwing it up. We implement change to make it a better place. I think Hillel will make the community a better place.”

Of the decision, Rabbi Singer told La Jolla Light, “We are ecstatic that the City Council unanimously agreed that the Hillel Center … will be a benefit to our community and the students we serve. We cannot wait to move forward on this to significantly beautify the entrance to La Jolla and give our program the permanent facility it desperately needs.”

He added the next step is to launch the capital campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to build the facility. Of the project $15 million needed, Hillel has $8.5 million to date. Largely due to a $5 million donation from La Jolla resident and philanthropist Joseph “Chickie” Glickman.

Singer added he would like the facility built “as quickly as possible” but that a timeline for construction has not been established. “We have spent a lot of time on this, and we don’t want another generation to miss out on the opportunity to connect with Jewish that Hillel provides them,” he said.

The history

Hillel San Diego purchased the land for the Center from the City of San Diego in 2000 for $1 million after the City determined the lot to be excess property. The sale was approved for the construction of a Hillel Center, and Hillel has been paying property taxes on the land since its acquisition (it will not qualify for non-profit tax exemption until Hillel begins operating on that site). Former San Diego City Council member Jim Madaffer (2000-2008) testified at the Council meeting that the property was “blighted” and that there were “no plans for the property or value to the parks department.”

However, in following procedure to build something on that property, UC San Diego Hillel applied to construct a facility that would have been nearly twice the size of what was approved on Oct. 3. The San Diego City Council seated at that time approved the original project in 2006, but a lawsuit was filed challenging the land sale and the Council vote was overturned. In 2008, higher courts determined an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be required for the project.

The EIR drafting and public comment period lasted more than eight years. In 2016, the City finalized the EIR. In that time, the project size was reduced to its current configuration. In April 2017, the San Diego Planning Commission approved the project.

The opposition

Those opposed to the development argued to the City Council that they do not object to Hillel itself, but to the location. Residents cited concerns with what they considered to be insufficient parking, possible increases in noise and argued the plans to do not conform to the La Jolla Community Plan and La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance.

UC San Diego economics professor Ross Star presented and distributed a list of objections to the Council. Of the decision, he said, “We are very pleased that the neighborhood opposition made clear and decisive presentations at Planning Commission and City Council. ... Obviously, the neighbors are disappointed that their views and those of La Jolla Community Planning Association did not prevail at City Council.”

La Jolla Community Planning Association trustee Janie Emerson, who has spoken out against the project for years, added, “It is so frustrating for all of us to devote as much time and energy as we have to all of the planning issues in La Jolla and La Jolla Shores, to the point that we are the experts, and to be continually ignored and disregarded in our opinion.”

— For more information, visit ucsdhillel.org/glickman-hillel-center or contact Rabbi Singer at dsinger@hillelsd.org or (858) 550-1795.

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