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Emily Merz: UCLA Housing should support students instead of catering to residents

(Noelle Cho/Daily Bruin)

By Emily Merz

February 15, 2018, 11:17 pm

UCLA’s administration revealed grandiose plans last year in light of enrollment increases: It would add three new residence halls and two new apartment complexes in Westwood by 2021. UCLA proposed a dorm building on the intersection of Le Conte, Gayley and Levering avenues that was supposed to be an ambitious 20 stories.

Then the Westwood Neighborhood Council got involved. Members of the council expressed vehement opposition to a 20-story building in their beloved Westwood Village – their deserved view of the Santa Monica Mountains and Westwood Regency theaters would be lost behind a towering residence hall.

The council passed a resolution in September 2017 calling on the university to reduce the building’s height to 10 stories. Residents even threatened to file a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act if UCLA went through with the proposal.

Several months later, UCLA administrators gave in to residents’ concerns, lopping off three stories and 200 beds from its proposed Le Conte Avenue dorm. The primary reason, as per Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck, UCLA decided to reduce the size of the building: concerns the building was too tall in comparison to other buildings in Westwood.

A three floor decrease may not seem significant, but it does reduce available housing for students. Downsizing the Le Conte Avenue dorm as UCLA increases enrollment means hundreds of students would likely have to seek out housing far from campus.

UCLA should not give in to Westwood residents’ frivolous concerns about building height or aesthetic. The university needs to build its Le Conte Avenue dorm according to its original design of 20 floors. Residents’ concerns about aesthetic are absurd in comparison to the demand for housing. Blocking a portion of the Santa Monica Mountains or having another tall building in the skyline is irrelevant when 200 Bruins won’t have housing. Westwood residents must recognize they share the neighborhood with students.

Beck said UCLA decided to reduce the size of the building because the university wanted the dorm to be closer in height to other high-rise buildings in Westwood.

But a 17-floor building still classifies as a high-rise, which means it must still undergo the same approval process as a 20-story building, said Michael Skiles, Graduate Students Association president. Since UCLA already plans to build a high-rise, it only costs marginally more to build the full 20 stories compared to just 17, Skiles said.

Additionally, developing dorm plans takes several years – the current plan took five years – so UCLA won’t be able to compensate for the lost beds or develop new dorms plans anytime soon, said Chloe Pan, Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president.

Beck estimated 141 of the 200 additional beds afforded by the 20-story design would have been occupied by students, and added UCLA has not compensated for the lost beds in other other proposed dorms because of site constraints.

Losing beds also raises demand for triple-occupancy rooms, which this project aimed to reduce in the first place, Beck said. He added the project was also meant to give upperclassmen more university housing options. Now, more and more upperclassmen will have to search for limited off-campus, private housing and face staggering rents of about $4,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment that are only bound to increase.

Another concern Beck cited was the height of the building didn’t match the height of other buildings in Westwood. But as Skiles pointed out, an office building connected to Napa Valley Grille, which sits at Glendon and Tiverton avenues, is 19 stories tall. There’s no need for UCLA to bend to some residents’ petty concerns and reduce the height of its Le Conte Avenue dorm from 20 stories when there is a precedent for high-rises in the Village.

UCLA’s responsibility is first to students and their housing needs, not to residents’ concerns about the Village’s aesthetic. Housing has far-reaching benefits beyond just giving students a roof over their heads; it’s also good for the economy in Westwood.

Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said he thinks more student housing in the Village would improve the economy and vibrancy of the community. With residents closer to the hub of Westwood, businesses in the Village would have more customers, as seen in surrounding cities, he added.

“Santa Monica has really blown up in last 10 years because there’s a lot more housing,” Thomas said. “I don’t see how the same thing couldn’t happen in Westwood – the more housing in the district, the better for business and the community.”

Of course, there are concerns that traffic would increase in the Village because the Le Conte Avenue dorm would lack parking. These concerns are nonsensical, though. The dorm would be so close to campus and Westwood that students living there would not need cars – something Skiles and Angus Beverly, student director to WWNC, both pointed out. In fact, it’s worse for traffic in Westwood if students have to commute from outside cities because they can’t secure housing near UCLA.

Decreasing the size of the dorm from 20 to 17 floors won’t do much to improve the aesthetic for Westwood’s residents. But it will mean at least 141 students won’t have university housing.

UCLA needs to keep in mind its job is to meet the needs of students, not to give into petty battles about views in the Village.

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Emily Merz | Opinion staff columnist
Merz is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
Merz is a staff columnist for the Opinion section.
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