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La Jolla community board to ask UC regents to hold off on review of UCSD development project

A rendering depicts UC San Diego's planned Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood.
(File)

After a complicated discussion at the Sept. 3 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting about UC San Diego’s planned Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, the group voted to send a letter to the UC Board of Regents asking that it withhold its impending vote on the project until the community has a chance to hear about the development in a public forum.

UCSD plans to present the project during the regents’ meeting Sept. 15-17 for approval to begin construction.

TDLLN would include five buildings ranging in height from nine to 21 stories to provide about 2,000 new beds for undergraduate students, residential life and administration offices for a new college, general assignment classrooms, a 480-seat auditorium, meeting space, restaurants and retail space for approximately 900,000 total square feet.

However, some in the La Jolla Shores area and on the La Jolla Shores Association board have spoken out about what they call a lack of communication from the university, along with concerns about the development’s size and potential traffic impacts.

After UCSD held an open house in January to explain the development, there were several meetings among La Jolla Shores Association trustees, other La Jolla community group leaders and UCSD representatives, during which the university was asked to hold a public forum to gather community input.

COVID-19-related restrictions scrapped any subsequent hearings.

Plans were made for the university to make a presentation and take questions during the Sept. 3 LJCPA meeting online, but UCSD withdrew the presentation plan Aug. 21. Soon after, LJCPA drafted a letter to the Board of Regents asking for postponement of its vote.

UC San Diego has pulled a presentation and Q&A scheduled for the Sept. 3 La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting to discuss its planned Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, and community leaders aren’t happy.

The draft, which has not been finalized, reads in part: “It appears the UCSD planners wanted the forum to be essentially a presentation rather than a discussion, and/or believed that TDLLN had been fully discussed earlier in the context of the university’s Master Plan. LJCPA and the community are very disappointed by UCSD’s decision, since it has limited the options for having UCSD’s plans best serve campus and community with maximum benefit and minimum disruption to each. If the forum had proceeded as planned, it would have yielded useful information for the regents.”

At the Sept. 3 meeting, instead of a formal presentation, UCSD community liaison Anu Delouri opted to give her regular monthly update about the campus, including a brief talk about TDLLN.

“Prior to providing this update, it’s important to share that the university since March 2020 …"

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson interrupted to say she objected to the update going forward.

LJCPA trustee Nancy Manno added that she was “infuriated” that “Anu is proceeding in such an arrogant way when the university specifically pulled out of the forum.”

At issue for some opponents was that by having the project be discussed during an update rather than a presentation, there would not be an opportunity for a counter-presentation against the project.

The LJCPA board struggled with how to proceed. Some members wanted to stop the update altogether while others wanted to hear a brief report with only new information.

The latter idea was narrowly approved, and Delouri was allowed to provide a two-minute presentation with new information only.

“A California Environmental Quality Act consistency analysis for the project has been prepared,” she said. “This is included as an addendum to the 2018 Long Range Development Plan environmental impact report wherein this project was evaluated for impacts … which is available on our website. The analysis concluded that the project is consistent with the Long Range Development Plan EIR and will not result in any new significant impacts.”

Delouri said the report can be found on the projects page at plandesignbuild.ucsd.edu. “The project page includes a visual analysis simulation and contains pre- and post-project visual simulations from key vantage points,” she said.

During a discussion that followed about whether to send the letter to the regents, La Jolla resident Bill Allen said: “I feel this is a railroad job by the university, that they are going to run over us like a steamroller. There is no way, unless we get an injunction to stop them, that they are not continuing on. ... The vote is probably going to be unanimous and we are not going to have any say about it.”

LJCPA President Diane Kane said she would only accept comments about the letter the board was considering sending and not “people’s feelings about the project.”

LJCPA trustee Tom Brady called the draft letter “well-done” and said it “expresses at least my view in how we have been treated by the university in this matter.”

The draft praises UCSD as a “productive and distinctive part of its community,” but given the lack of an open forum, it asks “that the regents postpone review and decision regarding TDLLN at their Sept. 15-17 regents meeting until such time as the La Jolla community and UCSD can schedule an open and interactive exchange on this critical project.”

After lengthy discussion about how to further fine-tune the letter, a motion to send it passed 10-3, with three abstentions. A draft of the letter can be found at tinyurl.com/y34kbjym.

Leslie Sepuka, UCSD associate director of communications, told the La Jolla Light late last month that the university, “as the result of our continual outreach to the community,” had incorporated several design features into the TDLLN plans, citing open spaces, extra parking and other elements.

Should the project earn the Board of Regents’ approval, construction could start soon after, with the goal of opening in fall 2023, according to UCSD.

The 11.8-acre site is at the southwestern edge of the La Jolla West Campus. According to the university, “public realm improvements” would include an enhanced campus entry at the Revelle College Drive intersection; partial realignment of Scholars Drive South; a valet/drop-off zone for the adjacent Theatre District; a transit hub for campus shuttles and public transit buses; an extension of Ridge Walk to the southern campus boundary; and recreation/outdoor wellness spaces throughout the site.

The project also would include replacement parking in a below-grade configuration for about 1,200 cars and 360 net new spaces. ◆