Westwood is running out of room for UCLA. Los Angeles, however, isn’t.
While pending construction poses eventual relief to the endless crowds on Bruin Walk and Charles E. Young Drive, UCLA’s 419 acres are reaching mass capacity. Lecture halls are becoming increasingly crowded and available dorm space is dwindling.
This is why it was exciting when Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck told the editorial board in April of a possible plan to redirect employee traffic to satellite offices far from campus.
Beck was short of details at the time, but the rough idea is that UCLA could rent out offices elsewhere in the city, such as in San Fernando Valley. Commuters who live near those areas and whose work does not require they be on campus could then be relocated to those offices. This would give employees back hours they would otherwise spend on the 405 Freeway, while reducing congestion on Wilshire Boulevard and opening up space on campus.
The university is still evaluating the option of a satellite office and said it will not implement it anytime in the near future. That seems to make sense: Implementing satellite offices will take a lot of coordination and research.
But the idea is worth pursuing, not just as a contingency plan, but as a permanent restructuring of UCLA. And considering how complicated the effort will be, the sooner administrators start to take the idea seriously, the better.
Beck posed the idea as a way to mitigate traffic on Wilshire Boulevard once construction for the Westwood station of the Los Angeles Metro Purple Line Extension begins in earnest. Preconstruction has already begun, and the number of lanes on the street has been reduced on weekends. Weekend traffic at Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards has already been tumultuous for the past month – and that’s without rush hour traffic and people’s work schedules motivating the manic driving the city is known for.
Construction on Wilshire Boulevard is expected to last until 2025, meaning UCLA has plenty of time to implement satellite offices and make the most of a temporary set up.
But the university also has a lot to gain from permanently moving some of its nonessential campus operations off-site.
INRIX, a company that collects transportation analytics, reported in its 2017 Global Traffic Scorecard that LA drivers lose 102 hours to congestion each year, costing them roughly $2,800. UCLA Transportation has done its part by encouraging commuter students and employees to utilize transit as a cheaper and more sustainable option. But with 53 percent of employees still driving alone to campus in 2016, it’s clear the university needs more creative solutions.
Moving employees to off-campus sites certainly poses logistical challenges to a university that already operates like a large enterprise. But some campus departments have already proven they can operate in a decentralized fashion. UCLA Health, for instance, uses a wide network of off-site outpatient clinics and centers and is still able to operate university medical facilities.
Moreover, relocating offices that don’t require interaction with essential campus activities only makes sense as enrollment continues to climb and related populations – maintenance workers, teaching assistants, residential administration – with it.
UCLA has grown a great deal from the Southern Branch campus of the University of California created almost a century ago. But it needs to look forward – and beyond – to evolve with the changing times.
Westwood, after all, isn’t the only place UCLA can call home.