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Hillel Center near UC San Diego breaks ground after 20 years of challenges

A rendering depicts the planned Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center across from UC San Diego in La Jolla.
A rendering depicts the planned Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center across from UC San Diego in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Intesa Communications Group)

The planned 6,500-square-foot Beverly and Joseph Glickman facility will host Jewish learning and holiday experiences and community activities. It is expected to open in fall 2022.

After 20 years of local battles and legal challenges, the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center broke ground Sept. 19 in La Jolla, launching construction of a 6,500-square-foot center including three buildings around a central courtyard.

The Hillel Center, bounded by La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla Scenic Drive North and La Jolla Scenic Way, will serve students at nearby UC San Diego by hosting Jewish learning and holiday experiences and community activities. It is expected to open in fall 2022.

“The Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center will be a hub for Jewish life at UC San Diego and is critical to ensuring that students have a place to gather, connect and learn,” Hillel of San Diego Executive Director Karen Parry said in a statement. “[It] will serve as a connector to the larger UC San Diego community to build bridges and foster allyship.”

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said: “I join La Jollans in welcoming a faith-based center to our community. Hillel brings a proud tradition of service to our California universities. This new center will be a vital part of helping Jewish students thrive.”

Officials break ground Sept. 19 for the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center in La Jolla.
(Melissa Jacobs)

Other area elected leaders also lent their support.

“The 52nd District has long awaited the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-La Jolla). “The start of construction marks a bright and inclusive future ahead for what is now a vacant parcel of land.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said the center will be “more than a state-of-the-art facility, it will be a symbol of justice and a reminder that every Jewish young person in our city matters and that they deserve a place to feel safe and loved. This center is a proclamation that our city is truly a city for all of us.”

Hillel of San Diego says the center is an $18.4 million project, led by a $5 million pledge from late philanthropist Joseph “Chickie” Glickman, who was a neighbor of the site. A capital fundraising campaign is continuing with a goal of raising $3.9 million.

“We are thrilled to be able to make our dream of the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center a reality,” said Hillel of San Diego board President Todd Kirschen. “While we are well on our way to this reality, we hope the community can help us take it across the finish line and create a bright future for generations of UC San Diego students by supporting our capital fundraising campaign.”

A history of challenges

In 2000, Hillel of San Diego was awarded exclusive rights to buy the property from the city to build the Hillel Center. The organization, which says it “encourages students of all backgrounds to form ... connections to Jewish life, learning and Israel,” has been working with the city and the community since 2001 to develop the project, often in the face of opposition.

Local planning boards and a group known as Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use argued that the Hillel Center would be a “student center,” not a religious facility. Though the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance, or blueprint for development, allows churches and other religious institutions in residential zones, it does not allow student centers. Opponents expressed concerns that the center would add traffic and noise and take away parking from the neighborhood.

When the Hillel Center was first announced, the proposal was for a facility nearly twice the size of that being constructed. The San Diego City Council approved the original project in 2006, but a lawsuit challenged the land sale, and the council vote was overturned.

In 2008, higher courts determined that an environmental impact report would be required for the project. The EIR drafting and public comment period lasted more than eight years.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association voted down the plan in June 2012 following emotionally charged community feedback that was equally divided for and against the project.

In 2014, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee found the draft EIR to be deficient in several areas and recommended that the Community Planning Association consider the matter further. In re-reviewing the project and the EIR, LJCPA again voiced opposition.

The city finalized the EIR in 2016. By then, the project’s size was reduced to its current configuration and the entrance was moved from the heavily traveled La Jolla Scenic Drive North to La Jolla Scenic Way.

An aerial view shows the groundbreaking celebration for the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center in La Jolla.
An aerial view shows the groundbreaking celebration for the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center at 9009 La Jolla Scenic Drive in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Pacific Building Group)

In April 2017, the San Diego Planning Commission approved the project. Six months later, after more than two hours of debate and public testimony, the Hillel Center was unanimously approved by the City Council.

Then-District 1 Councilwoman Barbara Bry motioned to add provisions to prohibit future expansion of the facility and to form an advisory committee to address noise, traffic and parking (to expire within five years with an option to extend).

Soon after, Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use filed a lawsuit arguing that the center would adversely affect the neighborhood and that the City Council did not follow the law in approving it.

In November 2018, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor denied the suit and upheld Hillel of San Diego’s right to build the center.

Earlier that year, a sign at the site announcing the Hillel Center was vandalized with profanity and lettering resembling a swastika.

Then-Hillel of San Diego President Emily Jennewein said “bigoted opposition to our plans is not new to us, nor will we let it deter our absolute commitment to building the Glickman Center as soon as possible.”

Two years later, Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use tried one more time to block the project, but it was rejected by the California 4th District Court of Appeal this spring.

Julie Hamilton, the attorney who represented the taxpayers group, could not be reached for comment about the groundbreaking.

Parry told the La Jolla Light that the groundbreaking “signals a bright future ahead for the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center and the end of a 20-year battle. ... We have successfully navigated those challenges and are thankful to the community members and elected officials that rallied in our support.”

To learn more about the center, visit glickmancenter.org.

— La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.