Judge Blocks Construction of Local Jewish Center

The eagerly awaited construction of a Jewish center for UCSD students has been delayed yet again, this time by Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn, who declared that an environmental study must be conducted before construction begins.

“”We were really surprised and disappointed in the ruling,”” said Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, the executive director of Hillel at UCSD. “”We have done everything the city has asked us to do.””

Hillel, a Jewish student organization on campus, has been fighting La Jolla property owners for seven years to develop a 12,000-square-foot complex on a vacant lot adjacent to campus. The lot is a triangular piece of land that is situated at the intersection of North Torrey Pines Road and La Jolla Village Drive, across from Revelle College. Since the group was given exclusive rights to the land last November, construction approval has been stalled indefinitely by the lawsuit that brought about the recent ruling.

Attorney Todd Cardiff of Coast Law Group represented the two citizen parties that sued Hillel: Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use and the La Jolla Shores Association. The parties filed the lawsuit because of community and environmental impact concerns.

There is considerable apprehension among the residents of the nearby La Jolla Shores neighborhood that the proposed student center is inappropriate for the community.

“”Certain people have moved out just under the threat that Hillel is going to build a student center in the lot,”” Cardiff said.

The center is intended to to be a community hub for Jewish students who find it hard to congregate on campus, according to Goldstein.

However, due to the location of the proposed student center, foot traffic in the surrounding neighborhood would increase by a possible 120 students. Foot traffic would be heavier on Friday nights in particular because of evening Shabbat services. The La Jolla Shores community, which consists predominately of single-family units, is opposed to the disturbance that would likely arise due to the influx of traffic and students.

While the Superior Court did not find sufficient evidence that the student traffic would be overwhelming of the residents of La Jolla Shores, the court agreed that the Hillel proposal could have a significant effect on the environment. Several witnesses have identified various birds of prey living in the eucalyptus trees on the property, including peregrine falcons.

The petitioners claimed that Hillel and the City of San Diego deliberately suppressed a report on the discovery of birds of prey in the eucalyptus trees before clearing the trees for construction. Hillel denied the accusations. Ironically, the city cut down three of the four eucalyptus trees in the lot in 2004 – the same trees that allegedly house various species of birds of prey.

Ultimately, the City of San Diego and Hillel must file an Environmental Impact Report before any further action takes place. The ruling also mandates that all previous decisions and agreements must be declared void, which presumably includes the sale of the property. As of early last week, the court has yet to decide on the status of the land sale.

Hillel currently has two options: to file the Environmental Impact Report, a process that will take about six months, or appeal Quinn’s ruling.

“”I suspect that sometime this [coming] week we will have a clearer sense of what we will do,”” Goldstein said. “”At some point we will be able to offer amazing services to the students of UCSD.””