Loyola Marymount University (LMU) held an open house for residents and interested parties to learn more about its master plan for its campus facilities on June 11th, and reactions to the event were mixed.
Representatives from the Los Angeles Department of City Planning were also on campus to explain what the planning protocol for the master plan will be.
The refurbishing initiative, announced in March, will serve as the blueprint to upgrade the university’s dormitories, laboratories and administrative buildings to make them compatible with a campus of the 21st Century. University officials say that the 20-year endeavor will include updating recreational and residential facilities on campus, as well as academic buildings, and creating more research opportunities for the school’s faculty.
At the open house, Lynne Scarboro, senior vice-president for administration at LMU, discussed what the university will be seeking in its master plan, some of the reasons behind the decision to update the school’s facilities, and the opposition that some residents have expressed to the campus upgrade.
One area that Scarboro touched on immediately was the belief among many, who are against what they call the university’s expansion, that LMU will seek to bring in more students and will attempt to expand the campus beyond its current boundaries.
In previous interviews, university officials have insisted they will not.
“We are not expanding our footprint and we are not increasing our enrollment,” Scarboro reiterated. “What we are looking at is changing the quality of the institution that we are.”
Groups of homeowners who live close to the campus have vigorously opposed what they call an expansion of the private university. They are reluctant to believe that the university will keep its word regarding not increasing its student population or expanding beyond its current physical boundaries, due to past experience with LMU.
A Los Angeles City Planning Commission finding, in force since 2001, caps student enrollment at 7,800.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Westchester, applauded the university’s decision to upgrade its infrastructure but requested that LMU consider the sensitivities of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I am grateful that the plan does not seem to increase or expand the size of the university. It is also a good thing that the proposal does not challenge the cap of 7,800 students imposed by the city a decade ago,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut. “And it is very encouraging that the plan seeks to move more of the student population onto campus and away from off-campus housing.”
The limit on student enrollment is a part of city planning documents and cannot be altered without public hearings.
“This was part of the conditional use permit that the university applied for when they built the Hughes Campus,” Adam Villani, Rosendahl’s environmental review coordinator for the master plan, explained. “(Adding more students) is not part of what LMU is asking for in its master plan.”
An environmental impact report (EIR) will be submitted to Los Angeles officials, which will detail what the university is planning to examine and how its infrastructure and the surrounding Westchester neighborhoods will be impacted.
“The EIR will look at all of the traditional issues associated with land use, such as air quality, noise and traffic,” George Mihlsten, the university’s land use attorney, said in a prior interview.
Creating residential dormitories will help to cut back on students renting homes in the surrounding neighborhoods, LMU representatives believe, and they hope it will in turn reduce the need for students to park on nearby streets.
“Our goal is for 75 percent to reside on campus,” said Scarboro. “If fewer are living in the neighborhood, we believe that from our standpoint, it creates a different kind of experience for them on campus.”
No new buildings have been designed yet, Scarboro said.
“The neighborhood is not going to experience any large buildout, she said. “It’s going to be one building at a time.”
Homeowners on streets adjacent to the university have complained about traffic, noise and loud parties in their neighborhoods, and many were not convinced that university officials will abide by what they are claiming they will.
“It seems like (the master plan) is a done deal to me,” said Leslie Rittenour, a Westchester homeowner who lives near the campus.
“It just seemed to me that they were just going through the motions.”
Rittenour, who attended the open house, was not very impressed with the personnel that city officials sent to the event either.
“No one could answer any of my questions,” she lamented.
Max Montoya and his wife, who live on Fordham Avenue, came to learn about the university’s plan to upgrade its facilities after hearing a variety of comments from their neighbors in Westchester.
“There were a lot of preconceived notions about the campus expanding and more students coming, so this was really about getting a firsthand explanation of what was going on,” said Montoya, who added that he is not necessarily against the new plan.
“We just don’t want (LMU) doing anything unilaterally.”
Based on past experiences that he and his neighbors have had with the university’s recycling center, loud music and reduced parking on their streets, Doug Salkin is not convinced that LMU officials will keep their word regarding their intentions with the master plan.
“I don’t believe much of what they say right now,” he said. “I’m very doubtful of everything that I read when they say that they won’t do something.”
Salkin believes that LMU will indeed attempt to increase its student enrollment and expand its campus boundaries, despite its insistence to the contrary.
“Through their size, funding and their lawyers, they manage to do whatever they want to do,” Salkin asserted. “What’s going to prevent them from doing it now?”
Villani said that LMU could not do either without city approval and an open public process.
“To physically expand the campus would run contrary to the master plan that they are submitting, and that would require them to get a new conditional use permit, which is a long process,” he said. “The essence of what they are planning seems to be more student housing.”
Scarboro is aware of many of the complaints from the university’s neighbors.
“I have to believe that this is coming from people who do not understand our actual plan because I don’t know why they would object to the plan itself, because there’s nothing objectionable about it,” said the LMU vice president.
“I know about some of the issues that they have with the university, and I think that this is their way of saying, ‘pay attention to my issue.'”
Scarboro and others have heard the complaints about undesirable behavior by LMU students off campus.
“We’re a university,” she said. “We have 18- to 22-year-olds here all the time. We’re trying to form their lives and teach them how to be responsible adults. Unfortunately, our neighbors are participating in that process with us as we go through that together.”
Rosendahl believes that the campus restructuring can be beneficial to all parties involved.
“If done properly, this master plan process can resolve old problems, allay new concerns, and shape a new, positive relationship between the community and the university,” said the councilman.
The university’s recycling center, long a source of controversy, will not specifically be a part of the master plan, according to Scarboro, but there will be mediation very soon between the university and the homeowners who live on McConnell Avenue, who are the most impacted by the facility.
The master plan must be approved by the Los Angeles City Council before LMU can begin any upgrades.