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Hillel opponents win round in court

Opponents of the controversial Hillel Jewish Student Center project, a 12,000-square-foot facility proposed for a small triangular parcel across from UCSD, have scored a major legal victory.

On Wednesday, the California Appellate Court published a judgment requiring Hillel to do a full environmental impact report for the project planned next to a single-family neighborhood off La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Drive North.

In 2006, the city sold the land to Hillel for $940,000 and attached a number of conditions to the deal, including a requirement that more parking be added.

Taxpayers For Responsible Land Use, a nonprofit group, and the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) community advisory group, had sued the city and Hillel, arguing that the environmental report for the project was inadequate. A Superior Court judge threw out their claim and they appealed to the state court, which issued the latest ruling.

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Michael Breslauer, immediate past president of Hillel, said Thursday, “Hillel of San Diego is disappointed in the court ruling and we’re studying our options.”

Late Thursday, Hillel’s attorneys declined comment on the ruling, which stated in part: "… we require the appellants to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) pursuant to CEQA relating to the possible impacts of the project on traffic and parking, biological resources and aesthetics and community character.”

CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act.

City attorney Suzanne Varco expressed disappointment in the decision and uncertainty as to what is to follow.

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“It’s too early to say what will happen,” she said. “It’s more or less up to Hillel whether they want to proceed with the project.”

Varco added the appellate court will send the case back to the trial court to issue a new directive that will “guide the city on what they’re required to do.”

Todd Cardiff, the attorney represent Taxpayers and LJSA, said he was elated by the decision, claiming it opens the door to legally challenging the sale price. Defendants in the case claim Site 653’s sales price was below market value.

“The Court of Appeals really criticized the city’s process,” said Cardiff, " and vindicated all the different groups that pointed out the impacts of the project on this property which is the gateway to a quiet, residential neighborhood.”