By Gary Walker
Loyola Marymount University is now offering its students, staff and contract workers discounts on the university’s recently instituted parking fees in an effort to encourage them to park on campus instead of in the adjacent neighborhoods.
LMU officials are also planning to list the parking fees on the tuition bills of students who have cars, beginning next year.
These new developments are taking place against the backdrop of a meeting planned for Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Westchester Senior Center that will cover several topics at the university, but a large portion of the meeting will almost assuredly focus on parking problems that homeowners in the residential neighborhoods near the university have complained about for months.
Since the university began charging its faculty and students to park on campus, several of LMU’s neighbors, as well as residents of Bluff Creek Drive across from the university say students and contract workers at LMU have parked near and, in some cases, in front of their homes in order to avoid paying parking fees on campus.
LMU officials have offered to pay for parking permits for all homeowners who are affected by an avalanche of new vehicles if they decide to create a parking district. In an Aug. 7 letter to homeowners, LMU Senior Vice President for Administration Lynne Scarboro said the school will now pay for three parking permits instead of two, as well as two guest parking passes.
The university is also offering to assist neighbors who are amenable to the idea of a temporary preferential parking district to establish one, with homeowners deciding how the hours of operation would be structured.
“We believe it would be very helpful if the city and community were to establish a weekday preferential parking district. If this is something the community wants to do, we believe this can be done in 60 days or so in working with the city and the Department of Transportation,” Scarboro wrote.
Virtually no homeowner who has spoken publicly at meetings has been in favor of creating a parking district.
Since the university implemented parking fees on campus in January, the debate over parking districts has been boisterous and at times antagonistic. During the years that LMU was pursuing planning approvals for its 20-year master plan, school officials invited groups of residents to participate in negotiations with them regarding what some neighbors considered nuisances. One such group, who called themselves the McConnell Quality of Life Group, took part in the negotiations in 2010.
A number of these homeowners worked with the university’s representatives to obtain certain concessions from LMU and as a mitigation to the parking problems, the McConnell group recommended that LMU “charge students and visitors to park on campus, resulting in revenue generation that can support a higher number of parking stalls than is currently proposed in the master plan (609 additional, plus 190) (Ref. Tab 15 Item 11).”
In addition, the group also suggested “LMU pay for parking permits for the residential neighborhood. There has been reluctance to approve parking permits in the past and a major hurdle was the cost.”
Scarboro said LMU does not wish to impose the parking district upon the neighbors, “(A temporary parking district) would give them flexibility to decide how restricted it would be, if they choose to establish one,” the LMU vice president explained. “(The Department of Transportation) believes a temporary parking district could be fast-tracked.”
Linda Murata, a 39-year resident of Regis Way, says she was asked by someone taking a survey on preferential parking a series of questions about what type of restrictions she would like if one were to be implemented. But the questioner did not ask if Murata did not support having a permit parking district.
Daniel Coyle, an LMU alumnus, said he would support “any solution that puts their cars in their parking lots.”
“Unfortunately, LMU is more interested in making money than proposing real solutions,” he said.
Scarboro says including the parking fees onto a student’s tuition bill is “a huge gesture” and added that students who do not have cars would be able to “opt out” of the fees.
“Commuter students on Pell Grants will receive 50 percent off on their parking fees as well as contract employees who earn less than $35,000,” Scarboro said.
All of these new concessions are being made to encourage students, faculty and contract workers to park on campus.
“We’re serious about having a good relationship with our neighbors,” she said. Scarboro reiterated that LMU will not rescind the parking fees.
Coyle says he does not trust his alma mater to comply with its promise of paying for parking district permits in perpetuity. Like many of his neighbors, he rejects the idea of a parking district.
“A permit zone will not put their cars in their lots; it will push the cars further into the neighborhood,” Coyle said.
“How far does the neighborhood have to bend over backwards to appease this bully so they can make their money?”
Erika Kemmerer, a Westchester resident who lives on Fordham Avenue, a block away from LMU’s south entrance, implored her neighbors to attend the upcoming community meeting.
“I urge community members to come to the Aug. 22nd Neighborhood Advisory Committee meeting to share their views about LMU’s request that the neighbors seriously consider permit or restricted parking,” she said.
Scarboro realizes that all of the homeowners may not agree with the newest concessions, but said LMU will continue to work toward mutually beneficial solutions.
“I think we have a long way to go, but I think we are engaged in some very constructive discussions,” she said.
Kemmerer concurs regarding the existing disconnect.
“We are still a long way from a lasting, meaningful and appropriate proposal from the university that respects residents, students, faculty and staff,” she warned. “Hearing opinions from all stakeholders is our best chance at protecting our collective quality of life.”