By Pat ShermanThough La Jolla Community Planning Association (CPA) trustees had many positive things to say about the revised Hillel Jewish student center during its June 7 meeting, the group ultimately denied its approval of the plans, following emotionally charged community feedback that was equally divided for and against the project.
The proposed center, which would be located adjacent the UC San Diego campus on the south side of La Jolla Village Drive, has been in the works since 1998. Such Hillel centers are located on or near campuses around the world.
The Hillel project is scheduled to go before at least one more community advisory group before it reaches the San Diego City Council for ultimate approval at the end of the year, Michael Rabkin, Hillel of San Diego’s new executive director, told the
La Jolla Light.
In 2006, the city council approved the project and sold the property to Hillel. Two years later, the court of appeals ruled that the project required an environmental impact report, which Rabkin said is nearly complete. Hillel is seeking community approval for a site development permit and right-of-way vacation at the .76-acre site, as well as approval to operate the center in an existing single-family residence, until the project’s completion. The residence at 8976 Cliffridge Ave., formally known as the Potiker House, is currently being used as Hillel’s offices.
In response to concerns from city advisory groups and nearby residents, Hillel reduced the project’s size from 13,000 to 6,600 square feet and moved its entrance from the heavily-traveled La Jolla Scenic Drive North to La Jolla Scenic Way.
The revised plans also call for replacing a cul de sac on the property with a 10,000 square-foot park, as well as the addition of a pedestrian path and bike lane.
“As a resident of La Jolla Shores driving through this intersection for 34 years, I’ve always felt this cul de sac was a visual blight on an otherwise really beautiful intersec- tion,” said the project’s architect, Mark Steele. “Will we lose a few parking spots? Sure, but what’s more important?”
A large portion of the discussion revolved around whether the Hillel center is a reli- gious institution, which is allowed in a sin- gle-family residential zone, or a student cen- ter with an institutional use, which is not permitted.
“Parsing that is real tough,” said trustee Tim Lucas, who also serves on the La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee. “I do know it’s only for student use, not for the benefit of residents in the area. Typically churches and synagogues are allowed in resi- dential areas because it’s a benefit to the resi- dents. This would not have any benefit.”
Lucas said there are 57 religious-affiliated groups at UCSD, and that approval of the Hillel project could open the door for simi- lar requests.
“Any group that claims to have a religious affiliation could start buying houses and put- ting centers into that neighborhood,” he said. “It sets a precedent. That’s a concern of mine.”
Rabkin said 80 percent of students using the center would walk there from UCSD, or arrive via public transportation. “These are serious students, not noisy students,” Rab- kin said. “They’re not a fraternity or sorority house; this is a place for students to explore their religious journey, to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and also to organize community service projects. They want to be able to give back to the community, not disrupt it.”
Rabkin also said the facility would not be used for larger events, which would take place on campus in rented facilities.
“There would be no meal service,” he said. “The hours of operation would be from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and dark during the sum- mer. No alcohol would be permitted, no renting of the facility to outside groups, and no outdoor amplified music.”
Residents opposed to the project took is- sue with the loss of two feet of roadway along La Jolla Scenic Drive North. They also say Hillel’s 27 parking spaces is not enough, and would cause visitors to park on adjacent residential streets.
“You have 6,000 square feet less, but you still have traffic impacts that haven’t been
adequately reviewed (and) parking is still grossly deficient,” said opponent and attor- ney Julie Hamilton, a member of Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use.
“If this really is a religious institution then you need to have double or triple the park- ing that’s being proposed (27 spaces) to meet city codes,” Lucas added. “If it’s not a religious institution then you don’t have that requirement, but then it doesn’t fit into a single-family residential zone.”
Hamilton said the center does not adhere to the La Jolla Shores Planned District Ordi- nance.
“This project doesn’t have enough land to do what it wants to do in this location — and it is allowing university student usage to encroach on a single-family residential neighborhood,” she said. “It isn’t consistent with the community character of the neigh- borhood.”
Rabkin noted the project’s recent approval by La Jolla’s Traffic and Transportation board, and said it has been proven that nar- rowing a street serves as a traffic calming measure.
“Whether or not it does improve the safety — and it probably would by slowing traffic — the fact of the matter is there’s already safety hazards and dangers on that street that are there irrespective of this site devel- opment — and that needs to be addressed separately, not by shooting down this plan,” he said.
Trustee Joe LaCava, who said he does not have concerns about the center’s intended use or scale, asked if Steele would consider eliminating the two-foot width reduction on La Jolla Scenic Drive North, and preserve the cul de sac, the removal of which some resi- dents objected to.
“Yeah, I think so,” Steele said, causing one of several UCSD students in attendance to respond, “Let’s do it!”
Devin Burstein, one of only two CPA trustees lending his support to the project (the other is Laura Ducharme Conboy), said he believes it does qualify as a permitted religious facility, and that the city council will ultimately approve it.
“We believe the plans are of tremendous value to the community,” Rabkin said, “and we want to make sure that when it gets de- veloped it has minimal negative impacts.”
One of the many UCSD students in attendance who would benefit from the Hillel center tried to assure residents and trustees that they would not disturb neighbors or add to traffic congestion.
“I know there’s a lot of conversation about who will be driving and who will not be driving,” he said. “Every single one of us who came here tonight carpooled to get here. That’s how important this is to us. ... We’re going to walk there, we’re going to be respectful and we’re not even going to be there over the weekends.”