By Gary Walker
Loyola Marymount University and a group of nearby homeowners remain at loggerheads over the Jesuit institution’s decision last year to charge a fee for on-campus parking, which residents say has led to crowded streets and a dearth of parking spots for residents, their families and service personnel.
At a May 8 meeting in Westchester, days before the university’s 2013 commencement activities, approximately 75 people came to express their anger and frustration with LMU officials over what many in the room said was the university’s callous and cavalier attitude toward their situation in which faculty and students who do not live in the nearby residential neighborhoods use the streets for free parking.
Several members of the university’s faculty, as well as students, reside in the nearby neighborhoods.
They told stories of having their driveways blocked by student vehicles, being ridiculed by students who allegedly move residents’ refuse containers in order to find street parking and elderly homeowners being forced to walk several blocks after being unable to park in front of their residence.
LMU announced last year that beginning in January, the school would begin charging a fee for anyone who parks on the university’s property. School officials say the new system is being implemented in order to offset costs for LMU’s 20-year campus renovation, which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2011.
The master plan states that the university will use the revenue from parking fees for debt service on a $35 million bond that was obtained to build a parking structure on campus that will feature 600 spaces.
A community relations board was created in the aftermath of the university’s master plan to facilitate conversations and solutions regarding matters of importance between the nearby homeowners and the university.
It is comprised of LMU representatives, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office and the affected homeowners, and it holds meetings every three months.
Along some streets south of LMU, signs decrying the university as a “bad neighbor” were present on May 11, graduation day for LMU’s seniors. Another group of residents stood with a sign with similar messages outside the school’s south gate along Loyola Boulevard, which families and visitors to the campus often use.
The meeting, which lasted over two and a half hours, was peppered with accusations from angry neighbors who often referred to the university as a “bad neighbor” unwilling to work with them.
“It was a very spirited discussion because it’s a very challenging situation,” said LMU Vice President of Communications and Government Relations Kathleen Flanagan.
At a Feb.13 gathering, residents rejected a plan put forth by LMU to create a preferred parking district in their neighborhood as a method of restricting parking by the students. That proposal was met with the same level of hostility at the May meeting.
Nate Kaplan, Rosendahl’s Westchester field deputy, reiterated the requirements for residents who wished to explore the possibility of permit parking May 8, as he did at the February meeting.
Two-thirds of homeowners on a particular block must submit applications to the city Department of Transportation in order to begin the process of creating a preferred parking district. Asked how long it would take to obtain such a district in the outside chance that the LMU neighbors later agreed to it, Kaplan responded, “About a year.”
The university has offered to pay for two parking passes per home annually for those who wish to have preferred parking and the offer has been extended to “in perpetuity.” But the homeowners appear to remain steadfastly opposed to that option.
Many chastised LMU President David Burcham, who at a previous meeting with a small group of homeowners informed the residents that the university would not reconsider parking fees, which they say has led to a surge of vehicles of not just students and faculty into their neighborhoods but also contract workers.
LMU Community and Local Government Relations Director Clarence Griffin countered that while the number of LMU-related vehicles in the neighborhood might be problematic, most faculty and staff members remain on site.
“The majority of staff and students park on campus,” he said.
Erika Kemmerer, a homeowner on Fordham Road who lives approximately a block from the university’s entrance on Loyola Boulevard, suggested that the university could resolve the situation by folding the parking fees into students’ tuition.
She noted that as an academic institution that has social justice as part of its credo, LMU should also reconsider parking charges for contract employees who do not earn as high salaries as other workers, which makes them seek spaces in the residential neighborhood.
“This is imminently solvable,” said Kemmerer, who is a member of the advisory board.
Daniel Coyle, LMU alumnus, said when he was a student, the university charged for parking in the 1990s and it was included in his annual tuition.
Like all of those who spoke on permit parking, Coyle said he was opposed to the idea and pledged to do whatever is necessary to help his fellow homeowners.
“I will volunteer my time and money to defeat LMU,” he said.
Flanagan said the university has not had a fee-based system for parking on site for over a decade and it has never been part of a student’s tuition.
“We used to charge $200 for parking which we stopped in 1999 as a condition of the CUP (conditional use permit) when we acquired University Hall,” she explained.
University Hall, which houses many of the university’s administrative offices, library, cafeteria, auditoriums and some classrooms, was once the property of the Howard Hughes Corp. until it was obtained by LMU.
Another reason for not incorporating parking fees with tuition is one of fairness, LMU officials say. “A large percentage of our students are on financial aid and don’t have cars,” she noted. “As a fairness issue, we believe (charging parking for students who do not own cars) is not fair.”
Judyth Axline, who lives on One West Bluff, says students have been parking in her neighborhood across from LMU for several years. She says students often park there and jaywalk across the narrow street, and are ripe for accidents.
“We thought for a time that it would be nice to live across from LMU, but not anymore,” said Axline. “We did not move to the community to become the LMU parking annex.”
Flanagan said she has been told by a number of residents that they favor having preferred parking as a possible solution to keeping student vehicles out of the neighborhood. “It has worked well in other areas of the city where there are educational institutions,” she said.
Others argued that the university should revisit the issuance of the bond for the parking structure.
Flanagan said that was also out of the question at this point. “We essentially made an agreement in the master plan and we gave up quite a lot when we did it,” she noted. “But at this point, to change the terms of the agreement would be impossible.”
The prospect of litigation rose to the forefront publicly for the first time among some residents. Others suggested acts of civil disobedience and Axline encouraged them to involve print and television media more in their cause against the university.
Kemmerer said that she had contacted several of the university’s board of trustees members and provided those who wished to do so with a copy of the members’ address and contact information in order to get them to weigh in on the parking fees.
“I would urge the community to get involved,” she said.