La Jolla Hillel project debate continues at committee meeting


By Dave Schwab

Opposition to a proposed UCSD Jewish student center in a single-family neighborhood near UCSD has not waned even though proposed project has been cut in half. Originally proposed in 2000 at 12,000 square feet, the Hillel UCSD Center For Jewish Life plan now calls for a 6,600-square-foot building.

“This is a gorgeous project — it’s just in exactly the wrong spot: a single-family residential zone where it’s not allowed,” said Julie Hamilton, an attorney representing a citizens group, Taxpayers For Responsible Land Use, at the Nov. 22 meeting of La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee.

“This project would also create an unsafe traffic situation in an area that already has parking problems,” noted Hamilton, referring to students parking on nearby residential streets.

The neighborhood group has long opposed to plans by the non-profit Jewish campus center to build on a triangular-shaped, 0.76-acre lot known as Site 653 on the south side of La Jolla Village Drive between Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Scenic Way. Hillel currently rents space on campus.

There is a provision in the city’s Municipal Code allowing religious facilities to be built in residential neighborhoods, but Hamilton argued Hillel is a “student center with a religious affiliation” servicing the adjacent university but not the surrounding neighborhood.

This is not a synagogue or a temple but a university student social organization,” said resident Ross Starr, noting approving the Hillel facility would set a bad precedent and open the door to more than 50 other religious-affiliated university organizations to expand into surrounding neighborhoods. “

Hillel spokesman Robert Lapidus tried to counter the opposition, saying, “Questioning our religious status, to say this is not a religious building, sacred space, is offensive, ” he said. “This is a religious facility. This is a permanent religious Jewish space. You (residents) don’t get to define what kind of an organization we are.”

Lapidus said Hillel plans to have 12 to 15 small-group gatherings (under 50) weekly at the center and host numerous Jewish studies programs during non-peak hours.

They want to develop the center in two phases to include three building structures clustered around a central courtyard including a student center, a library and chapel and an administrative building furnishing meeting, storage and balcony space.

He said Hillel would turn the exterior space into a public park with bike paths, a drinking fountain, landscaping and benches.

The two sides also disagree over whether the project could be voted on before an environmental impact report is completed for the site, which Lapidus said will not occur until after the first of the year.

After an hour and a half, the committee voted to continue the matter until their Jan. 24 meeting. They asked applicants to return with more detailed information on building materials, conceptual designs for the buildings, and more specifics on project lighting, parking and visibility.