Transfers, Gliderport Fight for Airspace

    The year 1930 was history for Torrey Pines, when famed aviator Charles Lindbergh floated his sailplane off the top of Mount Soledad to a cushioned landing on a beach near Del Mar, using the air lift generated by the towering cliffs now west of North Torrey Pines Road. Today, a planned expansion of UCSD that would include new housing for transfer students threatens the gliderport’s livelihood, generating a yet-unresolved rift between the long-peaceful neighbors.

    Gliders at the Torrey Pines Gliderport may have their landing paths diverted if UCSD continues construction of a 14-story building for transfer housing in Eleanor Roosevelt College.
    (Erik Jepsen/Guardian)

    According to the Torrey Pines Gliderport Historical Society, the site “is the only gliderport adjacent to the West Coast of America that supports four different forms of motorless aviation: hang gliders, paragliders, radio-controlled model sailplanes and full-scale sailplanes.”

    Though it is nestled between a research institute and a PGA-tour golf course, the gliderport has, for the most part, maintained neutral relations with its neighbors. However, the growing campus, contiguous to the historical site, has reached the limits of the land it was designated by the city of San Diego. Due to an increased demand for on-campus housing, UCSD has broken ground on a 14-story residential building for transfer students at the intersection of North Point Drive and Scholars Drive North, east of Torrey Pines Road.

    Though the proposal will benefit transfer students — who currently have no guaranteed on-campus housing — officials at the gliderport, the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California and other related organizations are opposed to the planned building’s location, which they say would block the favored landing path of the gliders.

    “Gliders follow the normal flight approach, like a majority of other aircraft,” said David Jebb, current operator of the gliderport. “This approach is physically shaped like an ‘L’ with a hook on the end. The completed new building would obstruct this path for the pilots.”

    Pilots usually land by advancing toward UCSD from the coastline, turning around 180 degrees to an eased landing on the runway. With plans for the housing structure to be built on top of the former north parking lot in Eleanor Roosevelt College, this particular approach would no longer be available to gliders. They would instead have to land directly over the ocean, making landings much riskier, Jebb said.

    However, UCSD officials say that the location of the residential building was a thought-out choice. In 2004, the UCSD Long Range Development Plan was reconfigured in order to meet the needs of the university’s quickly expanding population. Before plans were formalized, the public was invited to comment on the proposal.

    The region of the campus that runs along Torrey Pines Road was designated as an area for housing, a fact acknowledged by the gliderport’s managers.

    “We have been aware of the plans UCSD had for the land,” AGCSC Historian Gary Fogel said. “The whole idea of planting a 14-story building, however, kind of snuck up on us. We had no idea they planned for such a tall structure.”

    Key gliderport members hope to preserve the gliderport a functional facility as well as a historical landmark.

    In a majority of cases, UCSD submits an environmental impact report to assess the effect a construction project would have on the immediate and surrounding areas. However, UCSD chose a much shorter path, instead initiating a “mitigated negative declaration” — a document stating that no significant environmental effects will occur; or if they do, they will be mitigated.

    “The project has already been approved and there are site-specific plans associated with that project … moving the project would be costly, and it would cause delays for no apparent reason,” UCSD Director of Community Planning Milton Phegley said. “The presumed purpose in moving the project would be to lessen any potential effect on the gliderport, [however] the Coastal Commission has determined that the building will have no impact on glider operations. It would be both a pointless and a very poor expenditure of student funds.”

    In addition to the AGCSC, neither the La Jolla Historical Society nor the State Office of Historical Preservation gave their approval of the project. Despite a strong showing of disapproval, construction was greenlighted by the UC Board of Regents, making the plans official.

    However, according to Executive Director of University Communications Dolores Davies, a much more in-depth process must occur before the entire project is formally approved.

    After the project finds an adequate location in accordance with the long range development plan, it will be analyzed by the physical planning department to measure its compliance with campus conformity, Davies said. Next, the campus community planning committee — composed of students, faculty, staff and administration representatives — will finalize the location and parameters of the project.

    Then the campus design review board, composed of off-campus architects, gives individual input about the design of the project. The reviews are sent to Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, and after, in the case of large projects, to the regents. Projects must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, and in this case, review from the California Coastal Commission.

    Reviews from any historical preservation interest groups are not included in the process.

    “More than 40 years ago, UCSD was given land by the city of San Diego under the idea that they would be friendly neighbors in the community,” Fogel said. “While we are in no way opposed to the university increasing housing for undergraduates, we hope they will comply with their agreement as a member of the community.”

    All Campus Transfer Association President Marwan Azzam said he believes the controversy surrounding the site is unwarranted.

    “I think it’s ridiculous that the gliderport is making such an issue about this,” he said. “I’ve never seen a glider above the area in question.”

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