Residents oppose UCSD expansion project at meeting

On Wednesday evening, Nov. 29, UC San Diego presented its draft environmental impact report (EIR) to the public for a proposed 13-acre development project near North Torrey Pines Road and Genesee Avenue. About 50 homeowners from surrounding neighborhoods filled the UCSD Faculty Club to voice their opposition, mainly to the added traffic and urbanization it would bring to an already overcrowded area.

Plans for the proposed North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood, a new $609 million home for UC San Diego’s Sixth College, include seven buildings housing more than 2,000 students, in addition to classrooms, offices, retail space and an underground parking garage with 1,200 spaces. Construction would begin next spring — pending UC Board of Regents approval in March — and the project would open in 2020.

“The university is building a city here,” said Blackhorse neighborhood resident Edith Kodmur. “La Jolla was once, and still is in some neighborhoods, a charming beach town with cottages and single-family homes. Calling this (project) a neighborhood is the worst sort of hypocrisy, misrepresentation, distortion and lack of candor.”

According to the EIR, traffic will more than double at the North Torrey Pines/Genessee intersection by 2035, meaning a 315.6-second rush-hour delay (about 5 minutes) at an intersection already graded an “F,” the worst possible, by Caltrans for “extremely slow speeds.” (However, the report claims that only 5.6 seconds of that added delay can be blamed on the new project.)

Similarly, the second most-affected intersection — La Jolla Village/Villa La Jolla drives — will see its rush-hour delay increase from 75.2 seconds in 2020 to 219.9 seconds in 2035. (Of that increase, the EIR states, the proposed project adds only 6.3 seconds.)

The report is fatalistic about what can be done to mitigate all this congestion, caused mostly by surrounding development bringing more people to live and work near the university. It suggests re-striping some traffic lanes and mentions the possible alleviation brought by the trolley in 2020. However, widening the streets would be too expensive and inconvenient, it states, in addition to counterproductive since it would eliminate bike lanes.

The report also predicts 1,029 construction-related trips back and forth from the North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood site between 2018 and 2020. (A portion of the Torrey Pines Glider Port would be used as a staging area, with workers shuttled back and forth.)

“It’s going to be more difficult for emergency vehicles to get people to the hospital — especially during rush-hour traffic,” said Diane Roberts of La Jolla Farms, who showed up holding protest signs with her children, Daniel and Jessica. “I have a girlfriend who was rushed to Scripps Hospital from the Muirlands and it must have taken 25 minutes because of traffic. If that had been a life-or-death situation, she probably would have died.”

The project’s urban look was another common complaint. “If they kept it to six or seven stories, like Muir College, that would be great,” said Blackhorse neighborhood resident Jeff Olson. “But 14 stories? That’s incredible. It’s just an urbanization of this precious one-square mile of property here that’s adjacent to the Torrey Pines Park.”

None of these complaints were made in front of the assembled audience. Members of the public were not permitted to speak during or after UCSD’s 40-minute presentation. Instead, they were directed to a small room and given three minutes, enforced by a timekeeper, to make a statement recorded via audio equipment and a court stenographer.

UCSD director of campus planning Robert Clossin said the process, which it also used for its May 8 public scoping meeting on the project, was designed to make it “as convenient for them as possible.” The residents didn’t see it this way.

“I just feel like we’ve been so manipulated,” said Blackhorse resident Linda Olson. “They wanted to control us and not have the meeting get out of hand or have people have their say, because we’re all against it.”

By law, Clossin said, UCSD is required to respond to all comments it collects, in writing, in the final EIR document. “And when that goes to approval from UC Regents, they have those comments to consider in their processing of the project,” he said.

However, Clossin also called the North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood “critical” to the campus. “Our last undergraduate housing project was built in 2011,” he said. “During that time, we’ve added thousands and thousands of students and housing demands have gotten higher and higher.”

He added: “There are growing pains as we build and construct these projects, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to mitigate those impacts.”

Following the presentation, Clossin and several of his colleagues made themselves available for at least an hour to answer every question any residents had, one-on-one.

Want to weigh in? Members of the public can still have their comments about the project recorded by UCSD by e-mailing them to env-review@ucsd.edu before the deadline, 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15.

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