UC San Diego to release EIR for 11-acre Living Learning Neighborhood: La Jolla Shores board miffed at timing of public review period

A draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed North Torrey Pines Living Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego will be released in the coming weeks, providing one of the last opportunities for public comment on the multi-million dollar, 11-acre, six building project on campus.

A 45-day public comment period will begin as soon as the report is launched, but the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) is irked by the parallel of this timeline to the holidays, while a university spokesperson maintains the dates can’t be changed.

The EIR and its public comment period were discussed at the Oct. 11 LJSA meeting on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus. Assistant Director for UCSD Communications & Community Planning, Anu Delouri, told the group that the EIR will be released the first week of November, and depending on the release date, the public comment period would close Dec. 15-21. A public hearing would also be held in that time, but is yet to be scheduled.

Arguing “the holiday season” spans from the end of November through the new year, acting LJSA chair Janie Emerson countered: “This is too important a project to dump it on the community over the holidays and have that be the 45-day comment period. To me, that feels like someone trying to shove something through when the community can’t be proactive on it. This is a huge project that is going to impact a lot of people, there has been lots of discussion about it — pro and con — since it was first mentioned.”

The 11-acre mixed-use complex on the west campus between Muir College and Marshall College, will house academic buildings for Social Sciences and for Arts & Humanities departments; 2,000 undergraduate beds divided between four residential buildings; 1,200 underground parking spaces; and a market, dining hall and craft center. It is expected to start construction in June 2018 and be completed in Fall 2020.

Because of the construction schedule, Delouri said there is no way to move the EIR public comment period sooner or later.

“We’re trying to get (the EIR) out as early in November as possible, so that 45 days will be far before the holiday season,” she said. “We are trying for Nov. 1, but in speaking with colleagues, there has been a little delay, likely to Nov. 6. This is not a document we slap together. This is a document includes all the information, all the analysis we’ve done over the last nine months. When we have everything together, we release it.”

Conversely, Delouri added the report could not be released in the new year. “To keep the project on track to go to construction in June, we have a schedule we must stick to. There is no way we can hit June if we delay the review period,” she said. “We are looking at Nov. 6, which we don’t see as near the holiday season. Honestly, we work right up until Dec. 21 or 22.”

Holiday roadblocks

However, LJSA trustees maintained the proposed timing would be an issue, with Thanksgiving being Nov. 23, Hanukah on Dec. 12-20 and Christmas Dec. 25.

“Most people are really busy during that time, and you are talking about a community that is not paid like you are, who are volunteers who have families and kids in school. It’s a lousy time to be doing this,” Emerson said. “(I see this as) a deliberate act on the university’s part. It’s absurd.”

Comparing the length of an EIR to the novel, “War and Peace” (published in 1867 at approximately 1,225 pages), she added that people would not want to commit the time to reading and finding environmental issues within the document to meet the criteria of feedback the university will accept.

The purpose of the environmental review, Delouri explained, is not to determine “whether the project is liked or not,” but to find environmental issues that were not thoroughly addressed.

“If you find deficiencies in the document from environmental perspective, you can send a letter or speak at the public hearing, and we are obligated to respond to each of the comments. If you say traffic hasn’t been addressed because of x, y and z, we will be forced to provide a reply,” she said.

The EIR is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

LJSA trustee Dolores Donovan pointed out: “The comments in this document will provide the foundation if there is to be a lawsuit. The way the project is stopped, if someone wants to do that, is to intervene during this time period, over the holidays, and lay the foundation for a CEQA lawsuit.”

A public hearing to further discuss the EIR will be scheduled during the 45-day public review period, but Delouri said it would not be on a major holiday.

The timing of this EIR public review period continues a trend of what some LJSA trustees consider to be a “PR problem” for the university.

“We appreciate you coming and telling us things we don’t want to hear, but on the face of it, UCSD always feels like it’s running roughshod over the community,” said trustee Susan Tshrin. “That perception does not seem to go away, so when these things come up, it’s not just this one thing we’re considering, there’s history. We’re asking the university be a little more careful with how they handle this.”

The university’s Living Learning Neighborhood is part of a larger expansion and renovation of the campus. So much so that a university promotional article, “Changing the Face of Campus,” reads “five years from now, the UC San Diego campus will be almost unrecognizable.” According to the Shift San Diego platform, there are 18 projects either currently underway or planned for the next five years on the UCSD campus.

WANT TO KNOW MORE? An e-mail address has been set up for feedback once the Living Learning Neighborhood EIR is released: env-review@ucsd.edu

Project details and drawings can be found at: livinglearning.ucsd.edu

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