La Jolla Light
By Michael Rabkin
Executive Director Hillel of San Diego
At the November meeting of the La Jolla Shores Planned District Advisory Board, the motion to approve the Hillel project failed by a vote of 3 to 2. Had board member Susan Starr, whose household has been a lead public opponent of the Hillel project, abstained, chairman Paul Benton would have broken the tie and voted in favor of the project. This kind of bias among the local planning group is unfortunately not new.
The La Jolla Light article on Nov. 22 highlighted several arguments against the Hillel project without providing the counterpoint. Since the Board did not permit Hillel to offer a rebuttal, we would like to call attention to just a few. Others are on our website at ucsdhillelbuilding.org
Myth: “The project will result in significant environmental impacts.”
Fact: There are no impacts that cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificance. For example, we need to have a paleontologist on site during grading activities to preserve any disturbed artifacts. This is a standard permit requirement for all projects in La Jolla regardless of whether a project has an EIR.
Myth: “The development of the Hillel Center opens the door to fraternities in the neighborhood.”
Fact: This “slippery slope” argument is invalid. A fraternity would have no standing to receive a permit in a single-family zone. Furthermore, Hillel is not a fraternity; it is a Religious Corporation organized under the California non-profit law and is qualified as a religious charity under the Internal Revenue Code, just like a church or synagogue.
Myth: “If you’re a religious institution, there are established parking ratios: 30 parking spaces are required per every 1,000 square feet, or one space for every three pew seats.”
Fact: This requirement may work for churches with pews, but Hillel does not have pews. A Hillel Center is a unique religious use, and a parking study more accurately determines the parking impacts. We typically have three programs a week during non-peak hours, and most of these are small groups of 10 to 20 students. The opponents of the project are basing their argument on the maximum occupancy of the facility, not the actual number of people who would attend events. Hillel Centers typically provide limited student parking and have very low parking demand. Over 80 percent of students use alternate methods of transportation to access Hillel.
The UCSD Hillel Center for Jewish Life will provide a parking ratio of 3.7 per 1,000 square feet whereas other California Hillel centers surveyed provide fewer than two spaces per 1000 square feet. For example, UCLA Hillel, which is also located just off campus, is a 25,000 square foot center and provides 15 parking spaces. Our study concludes that 27 on-site parking spaces are more than adequate to provide for the regular parking needs of the facility.
Myth: “The buildings are out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, which largely features one-story, single-family homes.”
Fact: The three small structures that make up the Center fit well in the neighborhood, which has a mixture of architectural styles. There are quite a few two-story homes in the immediate vicinity including one directly opposite the proposed site of Hillel on the corner of Cliffridge and La Jolla Scenic.
The opposition’s statement is purely subjective, and they offer no evidence to support their claim. The architect has designed a facility that matches the bulk, scale and character of the neighborhood.
Myth: “Narrowing an already dangerous street would make it more dangerous.”
Fact: According to CHP, there have been no traffic incidents in the past five years on that roadway. Furthermore, research shows that narrower streets tend to lower the speed of vehicles and calm traffic. The Hillel development would only narrow the street by two feet, which would keep the street within the required minimum width.
Myth: “For the past 20 years, Hillel has not been a good neighbor.”
Fact: Hillel has been a good neighbor for the eight years we have occupied the temporary location pending the permit approval. (Hillel was not in the neighborhood prior to eight years ago.) There have been no gatherings of students, and certainly no events that have caused disruptions in the neighborhood.
Over the years, Hillel leadership has made multiple good-faith efforts to sit at the table with our neighbors to achieve a workable outcome, but the neighbors have so far refused to dialogue. Instead, they have chosen litigation. Hillel has made several major modifications to the project, including reducing the size by almost half, to address the concerns of the neighbors raised during the public review process.
Hillel will continue to be a good neighbor during construction and operation of the new facility, and we hope that our neighbors will respond in kind.
—Robert Lapidus, Past President Hillel of San Diego, also contributed to this article.