New Living and Learning Neighborhood Approved, Garners Criticism

The Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood has been the subject of a recent lawsuit posited by the La Jolla Shores Association. UC San Diego approved the construction of the project on Monday, Jan. 4, which seeks to bring nearly 2,000 undergraduate students on campus in addition to five new buildings ranging in size from nine to 21 stories.

According to the president of the La Jolla Shores Association Janie Emerson, the grounds of the case are based on the California Environmental Quality Act. This act generally requires state and local agencies to inform the public on the environmental impacts of proposed projects and feasibly reduce their environmental harms.

The two areas of concern are environmental and structural. The lawsuit argues that the number of huge buildings and stores will take out trees and local wildlife while also increasing vehicle traffic in the area. The project is constrained to an aging parking lot space with not many trees or wildlife present.

“We’re also very concerned about traffic, not only the amount of traffic but the pollution generated. The other part of the traffic is that the main and quickest artery from La Jolla for anybody who lives here works here or visits here to an emergency room is Torrey Pines road,” Emerson said.

She also stated that there are four different projects the university has planned that will impact that same traffic area. The increased construction would also contribute to the worsening of rolling blackouts in La Jolla and Torrey Pines. Additionally UCSD hasn’t performed a seismic retrofit, otherwise known as upgrading buildings so they are more resistant to earthquakes, on campus infrastructure for years. According to Emerson, a decision to bar said evaluation passed on Nov. 2, 2020.

This ties into the second concern brought up by the association regarding UCSD’s infrastructure. According to Emerson, water rationing in San Diego is likely to worsen due to the construction, with sewage being of special importance — it has reached its capacity and has blown out regularly.

“Why are you [building the project] when you can’t even service the debt on the brand new one that just came out and you don’t have the money to maintain your buildings? Those are bad business decisions… As a student, what I would be most concerned about is what is the cost to me,” Emerson said.

The La Jolla Shores Association claims to have been repeatedly denied access to the decision-making process in accordance with the university’s timeline and thus hasn’t been able to make these concerns clear and “on the record.”

The UCSD Guardian reached out to some first-year students who were dorming on-campus during the Fall Quarter 2020 to get their thoughts on the matter.

Eleanor Roosevelt College freshman Daniel Barquero said that he knew very little about the project’s impact on the environment until the project was announced. Most of his concerns lie with funding the project, as universities like UC Berkeley are leading the way with green energy.

“I feel like, well, there’s been much more of an emphasis on like green buildings, you know, and just being eco friendly,” Barquero said. “We’re going to be a fully green campus by 2025 or 2030 and I feel like I’m just like, ‘go embark on this new project’ as well.”

Similarly, Roger Revelle College freshman Tanzi Terry had similar concerns regarding tuition increases and the displacement of majors throughout the colleges as construction progresses. The availability of parking discounts in light of the closed lots also crossed her mind.

“Yeah, I know a lot of people already that are complaining about the tuition, as it is being high and how there isn’t really any layaway no really forgiveness, per se. And so I do worry that tuition could be a major factor into a lot of students not really endorsing this project as a whole,” Terry said.

In response to these concerns and the La Jolla Shores Association’s lawsuit, UCSD responded to multiple inquiries from The Guardian.

On the topic of tuition, the university denies that funding will come from tuition or increases thereof. The budget for the project is $565 million, externally financed through a bond that will be repaid over time from rents. The university was able to reduce the project’s budget by 12 percent by cutting construction costs, financing costs and “making scope adjustments to reflect a post-pandemic reality.”

Parking discounts will not be provided, but alternate parking will be available for the duration of construction at the nearby at the Scholars and Osler parking structures.

UCSD claims that they have continuously tried to get community input on their new projects. Firstly, in collaboration with local community groups, UCSD formed the Community Advisory Group in 2016 to seek input during the development of the 2018 Long Range Development Plan. Secondly, UCSD reportedly meets individually with five different La Jolla and University City community groups on a monthly basis.

In response to concerns of upkeep, the campus will retrofit, replace, or vacate all buildings with significant seismic performance deficiencies no later than the year 2030. Seismic performance ratings were developed by UC, in collaboration with the California Department of General Services and California State University.

Lastly, in regards to increased traffic obstructing emergency vehicles traveling along North Torrey Pines Drive, UCSD stated that the new district is being constructed with occupancy in mind so as to maximize safety and ease evacuation processes. 

UCSD has provided the city with the land and approximately $21 million in funding to build a fire station on campus. This city operated station will be located at the corner of Genesee Avenue and North Torrey Pines Road and will significantly improve emergency response in the area that includes the campus and the surrounding communities.

The project will impose immediate restrictions on parking and pedestrian access. Parking lots P102 and P103 are now closed until the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood parking structure has been completed. Alternative parking will be provided at Scholars and Osler Parking Structures.

The Theatre District Neighborhood will be constructed on an 11.8 acre site next to campus housing along North Torrey Pines Drive and will connect to Ridge Walk, the primary north-south pathway connecting housing and academic units within the undergraduate campus. 

A Projection Presentation from August 2020 stated that an estimated 2,000 student beds will be made available to residents. This is a response to data from the 2018–19 academic year that found that undergraduate facilities were 2,100 beds over design capacity.

Non-residential benefits include the increasing of administrative space through five classrooms, a 480-seat lecture hall, various meeting facilities, and new dining and retail locations. Approximately 1,200 new parking spaces will be created with a net gain of 360. 

According to an Open House Presentation from January 2020, these characteristics will aid in the further development of the 2018 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), which anticipates a total campus population of 65,600 and up to 8.9 million gross square feet of varying UCSD facilities. The goal is to house 65 percent of students and become “the nation’s largest Residential Campus.”

Project Rendering courtesy of UC San Diego.

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