BY GARY WALKER
A stalemate on the option of creating a preferential parking district in the immediate area behind the south entrance of Loyola Marymount University continues with no apparent end in sight.
Approximately 150 people came to the Westchester Senior Center Aug. 22 to see what the university’s latest proposal was that could help alleviate the problems associated with parking by LMU students in the neighborhoods adjacent to LMU. As has been reported in The Argonaut, the university is offering to pay for three permit parking passes per household and two guest permit passes if homeowners choose to consider creating a preferential parking zone to counteract members of the school faculty and students parking near, and at times in front of, their homes.
LMU officials have stressed such a parking zone cannot be imposed by them on residents and it is an option for the neighbors to consider. The Los Angeles City Council is the entity that approves parking districts, with consultation from the city’s Department of Transportation.
The university announced last year that they would begin charging students to park on campus, which homeowners who live near LMU’s southern entrance say has led to an avalanche of student vehicles that often prevents the homeowners, and at times their homecare workers, from parking near their residences.
LMU officials say the fees are being used to help pay the debt service on a $37 million bond that was obtained in order to build an underground parking lot on campus.
LMU Vice President of Administration Lynne Scarboro attended the Aug. 22 meeting and announced the results of a parking study conducted by the university from Aug. 13 until Aug. 16 to gauge the interest of establishing a temporary permit parking district.
According to Scarboro, 67 percent of residents surveyed said parking is a significant problem on their street and requires a solution. Of those residents, 63 percent support a one-year temporary pilot preferential parking district.
And of those who did not find parking to be a significant problem, 53 percent back the pilot parking program.
The audience, as has been the case over the last year when LMU representatives and selected members representing the homeowners meet, was largely comprised of people distrustful of the university and very vocal about their displeasure at the current parking situation.
Many skewered the parking evaluation, as well as the results, and accused the university of slanting its questions.
“Whether you agree with the results or not, this is what came out of the survey,” Scarboro replied to a group of residents who verbally expressed disbelief at the figures.
Others, like Dennis Tripp, who lives near the corner of Gonzaga Avenue and 80th Street, recommended that the university close the southern gate entrance.
“In my opinion, we should close the gate first (instead of creating a parking district) and see what happens,” said Tripp.
Scarboro said the survey results were somewhat unexpected given what has been stated publicly about the neighborhood’s opposition to parking districts.
“We were surprised to see the significant level of support we found because early on we had heard mostly from residents who oppose the preferential parking district,” she said. “It’s interesting what you find when you knock on people’s doors and ask them for their opinions.”
The university vice president also said LMU is reluctant to close the south gate, especially after having closed other gates after a group of residents made the request following the approval of the master plan.
Many in the audience repeated a refrain from past meetings, accusing LMU of seeking to impose a parking district on them in order to bring in more revenue through parking fees, and they demanded that LMU rescind them.
The rhetoric at times was overheated and straddled the lines of decorum. One man called LMU evil and compared the school representatives to Nazi storm troopers. “They think they’re the good guys, but they’re not,” he asserted, standing within inches of Scarboro as he attacked what he said were the university’s deceitful intentions.
“We have been very clear that the parking fees are offsetting the costs of the bonds that were used to finance the new parking that is being built on campus,” Scarboro reiterated when asked to respond to eliminating the parking fees. “We even provided the neighbors with a legal analysis to address their questions on this topic.”
Erika Kemmerer, who lives on Fordham Road and is a member of a committee of residents, LMU students and administration officials, asked what the next step would be after the two-hour meeting. “Where do we go from here?” Kemmerer asked Nate Kaplan, the deputy district director for Councilman Mike Bonin.
“LMU is working hard to be a good neighbor and to follow through on the parking district as clearly spelled out in the master plan that was approved in 2011,” Scarboro told The Argonaut after the meeting. “There’s no question it was a tough meeting, but it certainly will not impact how we approach relations with our neighbors. Having a good relationship with the neighborhood is important to us.”
Kemmerer said having Scarboro and LMU spokesman Steven Sugerman at the meeting was beneficial to the discussion. “It’s one thing to be told about the community’s sentiments, but it’s another to actually hear the community’s sentiments,” she said. “So I think that was helpful to both of them.”
In past meetings, LMU Community and Local Government Relations Director Clarence Griffin chaired the meetings.
Challenges appear to abound for Bonin, who represents Westchester, considering how far apart the homeowners and LMU appear to be.
Near the end of the meeting, several of the residents asked Kaplan to arrange a meeting with Bonin and some of their representatives.
Scarboro said the university will continue to try to work through their difficulties with their immediate neighbors.
“We understand that there are challenges living next to a university but there are also significant benefits, and we want to make sure our neighbors experience more of the benefits,” she said. “We want to develop stronger relations with our neighbors and continue to discuss ways to work together, going beyond issues around parking.”