For many UCSD students, the ability to practice their religion and affiliate with those that share their beliefs is a right often taken for granted.
UCSD Catholics, Lutherans, and Mormons each have facilities located on the fringe of campus where they can associate with those of their faith. While not the largest facilities, each group does have a building where they can practice their religion.
The University Lutheran Church on La Jolla Shores Road is shared by the Catholics and the Lutheran student groups.
Jewish students, however, are not as fortunate.
Hillel, UCSD’s Jewish organization, shares an office with five other ministries on campus in the Office of Religious Affairs.
In addition, the members of Hillel said the office and its lack of private space hampers the practice of the Jewish religion on campus.
“”The Jewish students need a quiet retreat to have access to education and religion in a facility they can call their own,”” said Neal Singer, vice president of the UCSD chapter. “”Because they don’t have a facility of their own, they can’t have a kosher kitchen, which is required.””
Singer believes Jewish students at UCSD should have the same opportunities for religious exercise as other groups.
“”Hillel is an organization that has facilities on hundreds of campuses across the country,”” Singer said. “”In fact, all the other UC campuses — namely Berkeley, UCLA and Santa Barbara — have Hillel facilities in proximity to campus.””
In order to alleviate this problem, Hillel began an extensive search in 1997 for an off-campus location to build a Jewish student center within walking distance of campus.
Hillel felt they had found such a location when they discovered a small, undeveloped piece of land situated at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Drive.
However, Hillel was forced to battle with residents who did not want development in their neighborhood over this new 15,000 square foot, city-owned piece of property.
Many of the residents around this area were vehemently opposed to the construction of a center on this lot, as it violates the city zoning laws that were established to protect homeowners from various forms of development.
“”Our problem is that this is a land-use issue,”” said Penelope Bourk, a five-year resident of La Jolla who owns one of several homes in this area. “”If Hillel goes here, and spot zoning is against the law, then [any] house could easily be razed for, say, a Catholic institution.””
Spot zoning occurs when there is a substantial difference between two properties that are in close vicinity of each other.
Bourk said that the structure Hillel supports would exemplify illegal spot zoning, and would also set a bad example for homes surrounding the neighborhood.
“”If somebody wanted to build an institution on the other side of [La Jolla Village Drive] amongst other institutions, that wouldn’t be spot zoning,”” she said. “”But if somebody should get a permit to build here on this property, and it’s not clearly distinguishable from the property next door, then whatever applied to that property could apply to [neighboring] properties.””
Neighboring residents feel that doing this would establish a precedent for the city and the La Jolla Highlanders Homeowners.
“”If [Hillel] can get a conditional use permit for a student center even though there should be no provision for that in land use zoning, then we have not been told by anyone why all of these houses couldn’t become essentially an extension of the university,”” Bourk said.
Although Bourk and her neighbors understand the need for organizations such as Hillel to expand and build permanent structures of their own, they are simply opposed to doing it in ways that violate their rights as homeowners.
Instead, Bourk and others have encouraged Hillel to search for alternative locations like the eastern periphery of campus, where homeowners are less likely to be disturbed and where new developments are constantly sprouting up.
However, disagreement and resentment have risen over this issue.
“”We can’t go someplace else,”” Singer said. “”We have made an exhaustive search of all the property around UCSD that would be available for something like this. If we built something on the east side of campus, or someplace that wasn’t within immediate walking distance, it would go unused and our money would be thrown away.””
Singer also refutes Bourk’s charge that the proposed Hillel student center would violate existing zoning regulations for the area.
“”If you look at the 1975 community plan, it says specifically that this parcel is owned outright by the city and may be disposed of or used as the city council deems appropriate,”” he said.
Singer feels that Hillel should be able to have the space because it has been vacant for 35 years.
“”Here’s an asset of the city that has not produced a single penny of income for over 30 years,”” Singer said. “”Now [Hillel] comes in and says we’re offering to pay over half a million dollars for this piece of property, which benefits all the people of San Diego, not just the select few that are whining about it.””
Whatever the outcome of this struggle between La Jolla Highlands Homeowners, the City of San Diego, and Hillel, one thing remains certain: As long as religious institutions are prevented from building permanent structures on campus, they will be forced to venture out into the neighboring community in search of their own structure.
This leaves homeowners to defend their community from disruptions that they feel will change the status quo of their peaceful streets and homes.