Despite passionate protests from a neighborhood group and some of its own board members, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa voted 11-4 March 2nd to approve Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) campus renovation.
The meeting was moved from the Westchester Municipal Building community room to the senior center to accommodate an anticipated larger audience, which numbered over 200.
Members of the school’s faculty and student representatives arrived at the meeting with “Yes” buttons to encourage the local council to pass the motion to approve the campus master plan, a 20-year initiative that would upgrade LMU’s dormitories, laboratories, sports facilities and other campus structures and amenities.
Students like junior Christine Reinertson spoke about the community service work that they do in Westchester, neighboring communities and throughout Los Angeles.
“We are proud to be a part of the Westchester community,” Reinertson, LMU’s Greek Council president, told the council. “I’m here in hopes that the neighborhood will support LMU’s master plan. It will strengthen the university and the organizations on campus and therefore create an even stronger link between the university and the community.”
Senior Jessica Vargas, who plays on LMU’s women’s basketball team, echoed Reinertson’s comments regarding the student body’s charity work and involvement with students in the local schools
“We support the community every day, and now we are asking the community to give back to us,” Vargas said. “Please support the campus master plan to make our campus even better.”
Homeowners on McConnnell Avenue, adjacent to the Jesuit university, brought diagrams and prepared notes to address the local neighborhood council, which frequently reminded the audience that its vote was only a recommendation and the merits of the project would continue to be debated in future meetings with Los Angeles officials.
Richard Hofmeister, the spokesman for a group of residents called the McConnell Quality of Life Group, joined a number of his neighbors in asking the council to request that the university increase a planned landscape buffer from five feet to 20 along McConnell, as it is proposed for homes east of the campus.
The council was successful in securing a promise from LMU not to store any equipment in back of the buffer zone within 20 feet of the boundary line, but LMU chose not to expand the five-foot landscape area.
Hofmeister acknowledged that the university has made certain concessions during months-long negotiations, but he was disappointed that the neighborhood council seemed intent on offering its “unconditional” support for the master plan.
Instead, McConnell residents urged the council members to give its approval on the concept of the plan, “subject to review of the Final EIR and Specific Plan.”
“There’s too many question marks and too many things (in the EIR) that are in flux,” Hofmeister, an architect, said. He said that he and his neighbors support the master plan, but want their concerns about protection against noise and other impacts of the university’s modernization plan mitigated.
“We’re not trying to be obstructionist or NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard),” the McConnell spokesman said.
While a plurality of the council voted for the EIR, the council members who opposed parts of the land use plan took issue with much of the language in the document, suggesting that it was short on some details and inaccurate on others.
“This has been the most difficult issue that I’ve ever had to address since I’ve been on the council,” began Stephen Bentley, a Westchester resident who lives near the university, when the local council issued its comments.
He then listed several areas where he claimed the draft was not accurate, including the method used to calculate the number of full- and part-time students, as well as new parking spaces.
“Again and again in the EIR, statements are made that no impact will be made to the community and I think that they are fraudulent assumptions,” Bentley accused.
Board member Cheryl Burnett called certain items in the EIR “inconsistent or nebulous,” especially the university’s parking plan.
LMU states that it can accommodate more than 1,500 to 1,800 cars between 5 and 7 p.m., and Burnett, who represents Residential Zone 1 in Play del Rey, said that was inconsistent with the high attendance numbers the university often sees for certain campus activities.
“That’s prime time for people arriving for events and sporting activities,” she pointed out.
Bentley also touched on parking as an area where he considers the master plan document to be inaccurate. He called the numbers for on campus and off campus students a “red herring,” stating that the homeowners who live in the adjacent areas of LMU are forced to confront problems with parking from students that do not live on campus.
“The biggest problem that we’ve found through the years with student parties is the younger kids who live on campus who come off campus to party,” Bentley claimed.
Burnett called the addition of 700 spaces “inadequate,” given the proposal to build a new sports facility that will house over 5,100 people.
David Voss, vice chair of the neighborhood council’s planning and land use committee, disagreed with his board colleagues.
“The university has agreed to more restrictive conditions than are required by the (Los Angeles) Municipal Code,” Voss, a land use attorney, said.
Prior to the meeting, Voss, who voted in favor of the EIR, told The Argonaut that LMU had agreed to a number of the McConnell residents’ requests, including moving setbacks and agreeing to submitting a parking plan with the city every year, among other things.
“(The neighborhood council) has to balance the needs of all of the stakeholders,” Voss said. “LMU has been very cooperative and has gone out of their way to be a good neighbor.”
Burnett was successful in getting the council to agree to strike “unqualified” support from its motion.
“We were pleased to have that word removed,” Hofmeister said. “At least it now accurately describes how the motion was passed and how many of the homeowners feel.”
LMU officials were naturally delighted with the outcome.
“We’re very pleased with the conversation that we’ve had with the neighbors and we think that we’ve made tremendous progress,” said Lynne Scarboro, senior vice president at LMU.
“We’re very pleased with the support that we had from the students as well.”
The comment period for the EIR for LMU’s master plan ends Tuesday, March 15th. It was originally scheduled to end March 1st, but City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, was able to win an extension.
The master plan will come before a series of city committees before it is reviewed by the City Council, which will make the final decision on its fate.