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La Jolla Shores Association and homeowners group sue to fight UC San Diego development project

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

After months of opposing the project, the La Jolla Shores Association has joined with a local homeowners group and filed a lawsuit to fight UC San Diego’s planned Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood.

The lawsuit against UCSD and the University of California was filed in San Diego County Superior Court by Escondido firm DeLano and DeLano on behalf of LJSA and the homeowners association of Blackhorse Farms, a gated residential community on the western edge of UCSD near the proposed site of TDLLN.

The $645 million project, planned for La Jolla Village Drive at North Torrey Pines Road, seeks to add five buildings ranging from nine to 21 stories tall and would include housing for 2,000 students, a conference center, hotel rooms, retail spaces and a 1,200-space underground parking garage.

The development’s design and environmental impact report, including an addendum, were recorded with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research as approved by the UC Board of Regents on Sept. 17, though the recorded approval did not appear to match the wording of action taken at the regents’ meeting, surprising and confusing many in the community.

The UC Board of Regents’ record of its Sept. 17 Finance and Capital Strategies Committee meeting states the group voted to give design and environmental approval to UC San Diego’s planned $645 million Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, though it delayed approval of the project’s budget pending financial clarifications.

La Jolla Shores Association President Janie Emerson said the LJSA executive officers voted Sept. 29 to sue both UC and UCSD on the basis that the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

On Oct. 10, LJSA joined with the Blackhorse Farms HOA to file one lawsuit on behalf of both organizations.

Stacy Cromidas, director-at-large for the HOA, said the project raises environmental concerns, such as the impact on “endangered species, traffic, greenhouse gases [and] wastewater. … The actual construction of that [parking] garage is, we believe, environmentally challenging.”

The project’s density with respect to its location “on the periphery of the coastal zone is very troubling,” said Cromidas, a retired attorney. “There are likely other places on the campus where a project of this density could be located.”

UCSD associate communications director Leslie Sepuka told the La Jolla Light that the university is “not able to comment on pending litigation.”

UC secretary and chief of staff Anne Shaw said she would pass the Light’s request for comment to the UC president’s office, which did not immediately respond.

UCSD's Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood is planned for La Jolla Village Drive at North Torrey Pines Road.
UC San Diego’s Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood development is planned for La Jolla Village Drive at North Torrey Pines Road.
(Bing Maps / La Jolla Light)

Cromidas said the lawsuit rests on two procedural questions — “the appropriateness of an addendum to review the environmental impacts, and the appropriateness of the procedural conduct of the regents in considering and ruling on the approval.”

Cromidas said “the addendum process is really a shortcut process provided under CEQA for agencies to supplement their long-range plans, allowing a modification of the plan to address a specific project that would fall within the plan.”

If UCSD’s Long Range Development Plan vetted the project, “then it is appropriate for an addendum to be substituted for a full environmental impact report,” he said. “In our case, we object to the addendum process, among many reasons, notably because we feel the [LDRP] did not detail appropriately the contemplation of the [TDLLN].”

The LDRP “focused primarily on the need for the construction of residential dorms and providing beds for students,” he said, with “too limited” a reference to the rest of the project.

“What’s been added to the project is particularly troubling,” Cromidas said, including “retail establishments directly competing with local establishments, learning centers, administrative offices, rental rooms for visitors that could be compared to hotel rooms, a conference center and a very large [parking] garage.”

Submitting an addendum, Cromidas said, “precluded the community from fully engaging with the project. [The university] surprised the community, and now we are prevented from submitting comments from experts hired on our behalf.”

Emerson said “the frustrating part of all this” is what she and other critics of the development consider UCSD’s lack of community outreach about it. “If you sit down at a table and figure out what your goals are, you can usually work it out so it works for everybody and everybody wins,” Emerson said.

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.

Cromidas said he “would like to see a new paradigm where the regents could come up with a way to better articulate the weight of their responsibility to the local residential communities where their campuses are located.”

LJSA “has provided great impetus for the community to react and to respond to [TDLLN],” Cromidas said. “They have led very carefully, and they’ve received support from many elements of the La Jolla community. They’ve engaged the university constructively.” ◆