By Gary Walker
A behind-the-scenes standoff has been brewing between Loyola Marymount University and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin over calls by some campus neighbors to limit use of the school’s south gate
Westchester homeowners who live directly under LMU’s entrance on Loyola Boulevard say students have used their neighborhood as a parking lot in order to avoid new campus parking fees imposed at the start of this year.
Westchester resident Jerry Sullivan has lived a block away from LMU for 37 years, and “for 36 of those years we haven’t had any problems with parking, until this year,” he said. “Sometimes the streets are filled up from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.”
A possible solution that has been repeatedly proposed by homeowners — and continually rejected by LMU — is closing the south entrance to cars and pedestrians in order to make it inconvenient for students to park in the neighborhood.
LMU previously closed gates at Fordham and McConnell avenues at the behest of the homeowners and former Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, and campus officials say they will continue to weigh limited access through the Loyola Boulevard gate. But they aren’t convinced such a plan would work.
“The action that you are requesting is …not a solution to the parking problem in Westchester,” LMU Vice President Lynne Scarboro wrote in a recent letter to Bonin.
Scarboro wrote that closing the gate was something pushed by a “few neighbors” and that it remains unclear what a majority of people in the neighborhood, including those who use the campus, would prefer.
“Before any final decision is made, the LMU community must be informed of this consideration and have an opportunity to voice an opinion,” Scarboro wrote.
Bonin, who represents Westchester, wrote back that he was “disappointed” by Scarboro’s letter.
“It seemed designed to build a case against restricting access to the Loyola Boulevard gate and contained a lengthy list of pessimistic objections and impediments,” Bonin wrote.
The councilman encouraged Scarboro and LMU representatives to give “full and open-minded consideration” to closing the gate to pedestrian access as a “means of discouraging students from parking in the neighborhood.”
Erika Kemmerer, who lives two blocks from the university on Fordham Avenue, thinks the gate closure could be a mutually beneficial solution to the neighborhood parking problems.
“It could increase property values … and the university can have a revenue stream from the students and faculty who park on campus,” Kemmerer said.
LMU began charging employees, students and visitors to park on campus in January as a means to offset costs associated with building a campus parking structure as part of its 20-year master plan.
The university secured a $35 million bond to pay for the structure.
LMU representatives have stated publicly numerous times that they will not rescind parking fees because they are tied to the bond agreement.
But angry homeowners continue to demand a rescinding of parking charges or closure of the Loyola entrance.
In his Sept. 6 letter, Bonin conceded that the university’s specific plan gives LMU the right to charge for parking, which several residents have previously questioned.
“But I am sure you will agree that it does not allow LMU to operate the university or its parking program in a manner that constitutes a nuisance to the surrounding community,” Bonin wrote.
Sullivan, a retired Los Angeles city fire captain, isn’t convinced the LMU gate should be closed outright, worrying that a closure could hamper first responders who might need access during an emergency on campus
“It certainly could cause complications,” Sullivan said. “I would think very carefully before closing that gate.”
LMU Associate Vice President of Administrative Services Michael Wong said the university is not convinced that restricting pedestrian access to their campus would improve the parking situation. And while the approved campus master plan does require LMU to control vehicular traffic to an extent, the document doesn’t speak to pedestrian access, Wong said.
“We still believe that there will be challenges, but we are considering various solutions,” he said.
According to Scorboro, the university is exploring preliminary designs for a new gate and the potential use of smart-card technology.
“But this will take some time to sort through,” she cautioned. “We will need to reach out to our faculty, staff and students and involve them in the process. … I want to be clear that any such a solution likely cannot be implemented until the fall of 2014.”
Bonin said Tuesday that he did not think a year was necessary for LMU to develop such a system.
“That’s an extremely long time for the community to have to deal with the burden of parking in their neighborhoods,” the councilman said.