BY Steve Olsen
The Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center will become a reality at UCLA in 2016 thanks to a generous gift from two alumni who share UCLA’s vision of creating a place where academics from all across the world can gather to share ideas, host world-class conferences and stay on our campus, experiencing the inspiration and vitality that are part of UCLA. Once built, it will be a boon both to the campus and the larger Westwood community.
It is unfortunate that Save Westwood Village and its co-president, Laura Lake, are trying to impede that progress with a lawsuit.
In fact, they have a long history of opposing projects on campus and in the community that have ultimately gone on to successfully serve UCLA and Westwood Village. UCLA believes their lawsuit is utterly without merit and we fully expect to prevail.
While the pending lawsuit limits what we can say, the fact is that the planning and approval process complied with all applicable laws and the project has broad support. We do not intend to try this case in the press with a point-by-point rebuttal to Lake’s Jan. 7 submission to the Daily Bruin, but we do feel compelled to set the record straight on several of the issues she raised.
Extensive review and public input preceded approval from the UC Board of Regents. In addition to the three meetings in which regents considered the project, they also requested and received thousands of pages and asked scores of questions, all answered in great detail. Our Academic Senate’s Council on Planning and Budget separately determined the center’s financing model is sound and that UCLA would benefit from additional conference space and affordable guest rooms. The project also underwent several public hearings on its Environmental Impact Report.
Lake’s assertion that UCLA did not examine alternatives to the Lot 6 location is blatantly false. Extensive analysis of project alternatives preceded the regents’ consideration of the project, and is included in the legally mandated Environmental Impact Report. She also ignores the fact that UCLA responded to concerns by our faculty and neighbors when we previously proposed that the Conference and Guest Center be located on the site of the existing Faculty Center.
UCLA’s decision to move the project to the center of campus satisfied the vast majority of those concerned, both on- and off-campus. It is further worth noting that local homeowner’s groups and the Westwood Improvement District have not opposed the project.
The contention that the center’s guests should pay certain taxes in order to avoid unfair competition with local hotels has no basis. The Conference and Guest Center would not compete with local hotels for tourists and other business travelers, as UCLA policy (also applicable to the existing UCLA Guest House and Tiverton House) requires that all guests have an appropriate affiliation with UCLA to book a room.
Lake’s assertion that fire protection is inadequate on campus is utterly false. While she cites 1,100 LAFD calls from UCLA in 2010-2011, she fails to point out that only two of those were actual fires, as cited in the Environmental Impact Report. In fact, UCLA has its own EMS and fire units that respond to all campus incidents, reducing the burden on LAFD and adding an extra layer of safety.
She also suggests that UCLA projects are subject to approvals by the City of Los Angeles; this is simply untrue. State law makes clear that UCLA projects are not subject to local zoning or permitting requirements.
Finally, Lake is wrong to suggest that there is a parking shortage on campus. There is not. The boilerplate language she cites is used in advertisements for construction bids to emphasize that bidders must arrive early in order to submit a timely bid.
Her suggestion that bidders may have been able to park in Lot 6 is puzzling, since the west campus office where bids are accepted is located a full mile away from Lot 6.
UCLA undertook an exhaustive evaluation of the Conference and Guest Center, including obtaining expert analysis of all of the foreseeable impacts of the project, prior to submitting the project to the UC Regents for approval. The regents’ approval came only after the most intensive scrutiny imaginable.
We are confident that all laws and University policies were followed in the planning and approval process. Once the Conference and Guest Center opens in 2016, it will have an enormous positive impact on UCLA’s teaching, research and public service missions as well as the surrounding community.
Olsen is UCLA’s chief financial officer and a vice chancellor.