La Jolla neighbors launch platform to fight UC San Diego expansion


A 15-foot wall separates Ann Ruethling and Michael Madden’s backyard from North Torrey Pines Road. Years ago, they say, a water feature could have defeated the adjacent road’s traffic noise, but now all bets are off.

Across the street from them, UC San Diego plans to build the North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood (LLN), which the pair fear will bring increased traffic and other nuisances to their daily lives.

“We’re not yelling at kids to get off our lawn,” Madden said, “but if there’s going to be 20,000 kids on our lawn, it seems necessary to do something.”

The LLN plans include six buildings, five of which appear in renderings to be more than 10 stories high, open space areas and an underground parking structure. The 11-acre site just north of Muir Lane will provide 2,000 beds for single undergraduate students, new instruction and research space for departments and programs within the divisions of social sciences and arts and humanities, general assignment classrooms and community spaces such as a dining hall and retail.

One of the architects, Ricardo Rabines of Safdie Rabines Architects, said the project is a challenge. “The idea is live and learn at the same time, which is something that hasn’t been done before; it’s always been dormitories and academics separate, and now we’re trying to pair them together,” he explained.

The space will also be the home of the university’s Sixth College, a new undergraduate program built around Culture, Art and Technology that “seeks to create student scholars that are dynamic, cutting edge, and well-versed in modern technology,” according to its website.

Currently a 970-vehicle parking lot, the project to make the western side of UCSD campus one of the centers of student life was presented May 8 at the Faculty Club, during a “scoping” meeting for the proposed LLN Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The 30-day scoping period — when the university receives public comments to determine what issues the EIR will look into — runs through May 22.

Meeting attendees showed their distress over the timing of the meeting, halfway through the scoping period. “This was been in the works for some time,” La Jolla resident Dan Mitrovich told the La Jolla Light, “We have a short window (to submit our comments) and I haven’t had time to read much, and this meeting hasn’t presented much information.”

Traffic Jams

William Jenkins, vice-president of the Blackhorse Home Owners Association (HOA), which sits across the street from the proposed site, highlighted in his scoping comments for the EIR, the effects the project will have on Torrey Pines Road traffic. “Currently North Torrey Pines Road is jammed with traffic during rush hour, particularly in the afternoon when the traffic backs up almost along the entire road adjacent to UC San Diego,” he wrote in an e-mail, on which the Light was copied.

Madden, who also lives in the 121-condominium Blackhorse community, agreed that traffic was going to be a problem. “We were told this was going to be the main entrance to a university with 40,000 students!” he said.

UCSD communications and planning assistant director Anu Delouri confirmed that the North Torrey Pines site will be an entrance to the university, but only “one of them.” Growth plans call for the enrollment of 6,000 more students in the next four years, reaching the 40,000 by 2020.

Rabines said those who are worried about traffic, shouldn’t be. “This project will bring more people, but it’s pedestrian people, because you can take the trolley,” he explained.

The Mid-Coast Corridor Transit project (aka the Trolley Blue Line) west campus stop on Pepper Canyon is a mile away from the LLN projected site, but a redesigning of the campus shuttle route is included in the plans.

Design Features

On the architecture, Rabines said designers are trying to make it “blend into San Diego, not copy San Francisco, Stanford or other places. We are almost trying to make a project that is smiling and friendly, even though it’s big, in a way, because we have to deal with that.” To achieve that, the architecture features indoor-outdoor spaces, rooftops, decks, terraces and “a lot of dealing with the landscape, terraces, creating a lot of places for gathering, informal places for spontaneous meeting,” Rabines added.

Also, the project aims to model environmental responsibility with photovoltaic energy creation, natural ventilation, high-efficiency fixtures, drought-resistant landscape, low power density lighting and a first for UC campus and surroundings: the anaerobic digester system at the dining hall.

Sustainability engineer Tommy Zawrewski explained that the anaerobic digester “converts organic matter from the dining hall into fertilizer to be used in community gardens and other areas, and it also creates bio gas, which is then pushed into an electric generator that is going to continuously provide renewable green energy to campus.”

Quality of Life

The timeline for the LLN project has construction starting in June 2018 and ending by fall 2020. (Note: The Trolley Blue Line’s estimated completion time is 2021).

Madden pointed out the bleak state of North Torrey Pines Road pavement, noting “I can’t imagine two or three years of trucks going through.

“We really like it here, we’ve been hanging on through all the traffic problems, but now there’s going to be an asthmatic assault for two or three years,” he added, referring to the air pollution construction will likely bring to area neighborhoods.

Another Blackhorse resident, Sam Greenblatt, who is spearheading the effort to fight the university’s plan, highlighted the nuisances that may come from digging a 1,200-space underground parking. “The disruption on Torrey Pines Road is going to be nuts!” he exclaimed.

Area homeowners worry their property values will go down once they start disclosing UC San Diego’s plans across the street.

Asked about the neighbors’ concerns, Delouri told the Light, “This is why we are having this meeting. All those impacts are going to be evaluated. We will look at them closely.”

Fighting Back

Greenblatt said he’s not going to sit tight while this happens. In his plans, commissioning an independent environmental report to counteract the university’s own, bearing in mind this may end up in court. “I’m almost 100 percent positive that we’re going to have to litigate this,” he told the Light.

Also, he plans to start a proposition for the California ballot ensuring that UC Regents “are to be elected and accountable to people. … I’m doing a lot of things. I need a coalition of people who are going to fight the university, in Sacramento, and here.”

Greenblatt said he has garnered support from neighbors of the adjacent La Jolla Farms neighborhood, including a possible financial contribution to the efforts, and a page is going up within a week.

Greenblatt criticized the university’s explosive growth, suggesting self-serving decisions forced the UCSD expansion. “When the 2014 long-range plan was approved, we were looking at 22,000 students on campus. Now, there will be 45,000 by 2020,” he said, adding that he calculated this number by factoring in a 6-percent yearly growth rate.

The 2015 California State Auditor report on the University of California found that decisions made by its Regents had disadvantaged in-state students “in exchange for revenue generated by non-residents,” the study reads. In Greenblatt’s opinion, “They got caught, and they thought they had to compensate by increasing campus size, bringing in more in-state students and keeping a balance with out-of-state ones.”

The UC Regents voted for 20 percent system-wide non-resident undergraduate enrollment to protect California students, but UC San Diego (alongside two other schools), will get to keep their current 22.9 percent of out-of-state undergraduate enrollment. Also, UC Regents approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase in January, the first one in six years.

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