By Gary Walker
A group of residents who live a few blocks from Loyola Marymount University have been up in arms since the university implemented a plan in January where anyone who parks on its grounds must pay a fee.
They say it has caused an untenable situation in their neighborhoods, with an overflow of faculty and student vehicles taking valuable parking spaces. The homeowners have also rejected the idea of creating a permit parking district as well as LMU’s offer to pay for permits for those who support the parking district plan.
But a document obtained by The Argonaut shows that a group of residents representing the interests of the homeowners, largely from McConnell Avenue, actually were the ones who recommended that the Jesuit University charge parking fees and help create a permit parking district.
The university is in the midst of a 20-year endeavor that will reshape its campus with state-of-the-art facilities, dormitories and parking spaces. LMU officials hope the infrastructure refurbishing will attract faculty and students from all over the globe with new laboratories, offices and athletic facilities.
In developing the master plan for the campus overhaul, LMU invited a group of residents who called themselves the McConnell Quality of Life Group to take part in the negotiations in 2010. While many in the group were and remain some of the university’s staunchest critics, others engaged with the school’s representatives to seek certain concessions from LMU as well as to look for collaborative solutions.
Some of those proposed solutions to existing problems were recommendations by the homeowners in the master plan’s draft environmental impact report sent to LMU.
Under the heading of proposed mitigations, the McConnell group recommended to “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, they 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.”
LMU officials seem perplexed that some residents who live within blocks of the university’s south gate on Loyola Boulevard are now complaining about recommendations that a representative group made on many of their behalf.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Neighborhood members were part of the working group that negotiated the final terms of the master plan agreement, and they suggested permit parking as the solution,” noted LMU Vice President of Communications and Government Relations Kathleen Flanagan. “We agreed and set up the $24,000 annual fund to pay for permits. Now, some of the same people that suggested it are protesting their own solution.”
LMU Community and Local Government Relations Director Clarence Griffin touched briefly on the homeowners’ involvement in formulating the final environmental document at a March 8 meeting in Westchester.
Not everyone has found LMU to be an intransigent neighbor.
“Thank you for your professional courtesy service and on behalf of the McConnell Quality of Life Group, we sincerely appreciate the hard work you and others in (the Department of City) Planning have done and will continue to do to make LMU’s master plan a rousing success,” wrote Richard Hofmeister, a former McConnell resident who represented the homeowners group in master plan negotiations with the university during the planning process.
Linda Kokelaar, a member of an advisory committee who lives on McConnell and was a member of the McConnell group, claimed at the May 8 meeting that Hofmeister acted against the wishes of some of the members of the McConnell group. “That was Richard’s doing,” she protested.
Hofmeister could not be reached for comment.
It was proposed at the May 8 meeting to include parking fees into student tuition, which the university has said it will not do.
Dan Coyle, an LMU alumnus, doesn’t understand the university’s refusal to integrate the parking fees for students into their tuition, a proposal he believes would keep them on campus instead of parking outside the university.
“Why they won’t do that escapes me. It’s revenue neutral, less expensive for each student, they have the capacity, and it makes the neighbors happy,” said Coyle, who lives in Westchester. “The only ones disadvantaged are non-drivers. LMU could easily implement a fee waiver for them.
“So the solution is there, but the LMU President (David Burcham) and the trustees don’t care,” Coyle continued. “LMU was once a model citizen. Now they’re motivated by money and not much else. Either way, they’ve lost me and many others. I now plan to fight every step LMU may wish to take in the future, no matter how small.”
LMU representatives believe it would be inequitable for students who do not own cars to pay for parking.
“A large percentage of our students are on financial aid and don’t have cars,” Flanagan noted. “As a fairness issue, we believe (charging parking for students who do not own cars) is not fair.”
Joe Belli, a 30-year Westchester resident who lives near the university, said he and his wife have always enjoyed commencement at LMU and often have waved and greeted graduates and their families who park in the neighborhood during that time of year.
“About 20 years ago, I drove somebody around the neighborhood until we located their car,” he recalled. “That Saturday in May each year is truly a delight for us as we can feel graduation excitement in the air.”
Now Belli says since January, things have changed.
“Over the past school year we have seen an extreme increase in the number of cars parked in our neighborhood. During the school week, we are unable to park in front of our own house, edge the lawn or sweep up,” he said. “My wife and I don’t understand what campus parking policies have changed at LMU; the neighborhood parking situation during the week is becoming a problem.
“It feels like our neighborhood is deteriorating and becoming over-crowded due to a lack of parking for the homeowners. We moved to Westchester 30 years ago because of the community’s pleasant family-oriented atmosphere. We are asking that LMU provide adequate on-campus parking for all its students, faculty and staff during the regular work week.”
Some members of the panel appeared to act as advocates for the affected homeowners.
Cyndi Hench, an LMU alumna, said she receives fundraising letters from her alma mater frequently and pledged to no longer give money until the parking dilemma is resolved. “And I would encourage other LMU alumni to do the same,” said Hench, who is also the president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.
Patricia Lyon, another member of the local council, agreed with some of the audience that residents should meet by themselves and exclude LMU from those gatherings in the future in order to plan their next strategy.
Under the terms of the master plan, the advisory committee has a defined purpose and does not appear to encourage partisanship or advocacy.
“The committee and LMU shall work together in good faith to reach a reasonable, practical resolution of matters, which addresses community concerns and legal requirements and operating and programmatic requirements of the university,” the penultimate paragraph of the agreement states.
At the May 8 meeting, several speakers inquired about LMU’s compliance with the tenets of the master plan. The results were released on the night of the meeting.
“The director of Planning finds that Loyola Marymount University has complied with the terms and conditions required under the development agreement and has fulfilled the requirements for the first reporting period of May 2011 through May 2012,” wrote Michael LoGrande, the director of the city Department of Planning.
Westchester Master plan document shows homeowners asked LMU to charge for parking
By Gary Walker