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Editorial: Westwood residents’ lawsuit an affront to student housing needs

By Editorial Board

March 11, 2018 9:19 pm

In a city riddled with homelessness and congested roadways, Westwood residents have taken it upon themselves to fight the big fight: suing the University of California for trying to build more affordable student housing.

The Westwood History and Architecture Association and Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, are suing UCLA for trying to construct a 17-story apartment complex on Le Conte Avenue. The plaintiffs claim the university did not adequately follow California Environmental Quality Act guidelines, arguing attractions such as the Regency Village Theatre and the Santa Monica Mountains would be obscured by the structure.

This is only the latest in a series of attempts by residents to curtail a project meant to address the lack of affordable housing in Westwood. Members of the Westwood Neighborhood Council urged the university in September to downsize the Le Conte building to better match the height of surrounding buildings. Residents then tried their luck at voicing nonsensical demands at a public hearing for the project in October.

And now, community members have called upon the Westwood History and Architecture Association, an organization that has had little to no activity until it came out of slumber last week, to sue the university over the view of a movie theater and a couple of mountains.

Residents have made it abundantly clear Bruins aren’t welcome in Westwood. UCLA already made compromises to its future housing projects because of height concerns, and suing it for not adhering to early-20th-century aesthetics isn’t just the height of ridiculousness; it’s indicative of how little residents care for affordable housing in the Village.

Community members have been particular about style over sense. UCLA originally proposed constructing a 20-story apartment on Le Conte Avenue as part of several housing projects meant to meet increased student enrollment as mandated by the state government, and maintain – if not increase – housing guarantees for future Bruins. But after blowback from residents, the university lopped off three floors from the plan, kicking out 200 beds in the process.

By the plaintiffs’ logic, the university would need to shave off seven more stories from the proposed apartment to adhere to Westwood’s low-height aesthetic. What these residents would have the university do with the displaced beds, however, is unclear – save for the mistaken notion that UCLA could magically add hundreds of rooms to its other proposed housing sites without breaking construction codes or bearing significant costs.

Westwood is no doubt iconic, but the Village cannot afford to remain frozen in a bygone era in which inefficient land use and low-density architecture were the convention – especially when students are being priced out of the neighborhood because of its exorbitant rent.

Residents can say all they want about supporting student housing, but those words are meaningless when those same community members are obstructing efforts to bring more housing to the Village because of a single-show movie theater built in the 1930s.

If residents want to gaze at the Santa Monica Mountains so badly, they should drop their lawsuit and let UCLA build its 17-story complex. They can then pool together the funds needed to help UCLA build a public observatory on the roof of the building, and enjoy the view of the Village and the mountains. Students wouldn’t mind – and neither would Westwood’s nonexistent mountaineers.

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