La Jolla community planners reject Hillel project once more

By Pat Sherman

The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) again voiced opposition to the proposed Hillel Center for Jewish Life, which would serve Jewish students at UC San Diego at a new center off La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road.

Hillel, which has similar centers near other campuses (including San Diego State University), is seeking community approval for a site development permit and right-of-way vacation at the .76-acre site. A residence at 8976 Cliffridge Ave. is currently used as Hillel’s office.

Though Hillel has made resident-suggested concessions to its proposal in recent years, which include reducing the project’s size from 13,000 to 6,600 square feet and moving its entrance from busy La Jolla Scenic Drive North to La Jolla Scenic Way, several people attending the LJCPA’s Feb. 6 meeting cited problems with a re-circulated draft environmental impact report (EIR) conducted for the project (the comment period for which closed this week).

In its review of the project, the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee (PRC) found the draft EIR to be deficient in several areas, and recommended that the LJCPA consider the matter further.

The PRC found:

  • The EIR used an attendance limit of 50 persons for a noise analysis, though the proposed building has an occupancy limit far greater.
  • Hillel would increase traffic in the area, given projected development adjacent the Venter Institute on Torrey Pines Road.
  • Hillel places a student center in a single-family residential zone.
  • Traffic patterns on La Jolla Scenic Drive North and La Jolla Village Drive would make Hillel’s proposed driveway unsafe.
  • Onsite parking is inadequate for both a religious use and for a student center that can hold as many as 100 to 150 people.
  • The project will result in a loss of nine on-street parking spaces in the campus impact parking overlay zone (in an area already impacted by the UCSD campus).
  • Tall windows on the Hillel buildings would create light pollution in the neighborhood.
  • Hillel will set a precedent for other student centers to be built in the neighborhood.

In the end, the LJCPA voted to supplement its March 2013 letter of opposition to the project with the PRC’s bullet points and several other considerations. The motion passed 12-1-1, with only trustee Fran Zimmerman in opposition.

Though the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordinance (PDO), or blueprint for development, allows churches and religious institutions in residential zones, it does not allow student centers.

Addressing those in attendance, Hillel Executive Director Michael Rabkin maintained that Hillel is not a student center (as its original title stated), but “an independent, religious corporation whose purpose is to serve the religious needs of Jewish college students.

“Anyone can plainly see that this project is not a university facility,” Rabkin said.

Though Hillel holds functions and meetings at UCSD, Rabkin noted that there is “no registered student organization at the university called Hillel,” and that it is independently funded.

“Hillel was incorporated in the state of California in July of 1992 ‘exclusively for religious purposes’ under the nonprofit religious corporation law,” Rabkin said. “Hillel’s specific purpose is to ‘provide for the religious needs of Jewish students on the university campuses in San Diego County.’ ”

Attorney Julie Hamilton, representing a handful of residents near the project who oppose it, said after reviewing Hillel’s tax filings it was still “unclear” whether Hillel was a student center or religious institution.

Hamilton charged that the EIR has gone “from bad to worse,” because it fails to take into account future expansion and future impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and roadways.

“When you describe your project, you have to describe all of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the activity being approved,” Hamilton said, noting that a traffic impact analysis conducted on the project includes an event log showing that as many as 150 people attended some Hillel events on the UCSD Campus, such as its Saturday Night Shabbat service and dinner.

Though Hillel has said it would not relocated its Shabbat service to its new center, Hamilton noted that plans call for an industrial kitchen and that the facility would have the capacity to accommodate Shabbat.

“On more than one occasion Hillel has mentioned that they want to expand in the future,” Hamilton said. “You have to consider that future expansion. At a minimum, you have to anticipate all the foreseeable activities that would come with this approval. You can’t come back in two years and say, well, we’re going to move Shabbat over because it’s too expensive to keep doing it at UCSD and we’ve got this great facility.”

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