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College Board Approves Plan to Counter City Proposal

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

July 27 -- Shocked by a City proposal that could shut down programs at the new Airport campus, the College Board on Monday approved its latest response in an ongoing struggle with the City over student access.

The emotionally charged special meeting was called to counter an item on Tuesday’s City Council agenda that, if passed, would deny vehicular access to the campus from Airport Avenue and would call for the immediate removal of the shuttle service from the main campus.

It would also eliminate pedestrian access from the shuttle lot to the campus midway through the Fall semester. If that were to happen, many, perhaps most, of the classes at the Bundy building -- which the college has spent $15 million renovating -- would be cancelled, according to College officials.

The College’s plan -- outlined in a letter to the council -- would keep the shuttle service at the Airport until the City begins construction of Airport Park and allow cars to drive in and out of the campus parking lots from Airport Avenue next year.

In exchange, the College would give the City $1 million to help pay for Airport Avenue improvements and would meet with the City to talk about traffic.

“When the City decides it wants to cut access to education, it makes me very upset,” College President Thomas J. Donner said, trying hard to control his emotions. “I wonder why it is that the College is singled out in this way.

“We hear the statement all the time: ‘What are you doing for the community?’ What we’re doing is what we’re about. Education.”

Sunset Park residents -- who have persistently opposed opening access to the campus from Airport Avenue -- were not sold by the College’s contention that the campus would have a minimal impact on neighborhood streets.

“I’ll remind you that in Sunset Park we have the main campus, the administrative offices, 14th and Pico property, the Airport Arts campus and now the adjacent Bundy campus,” said Zina Josephs, president of Friends of Sunset Park.

The intersection of 23rd Street and Airport Avenue “carries 9,000 more car trips daily than acceptable to the City’s general plan guidelines,” said Eric Gabster, a member of the group. “How can more traffic, regardless of percentage, be considered reasonable?”

College officials countered by describing how the site was used in the past, and, in one case, in the present.

Their presentation was enlivened by the use of “Google Earth,” a program that zooms in on a cartoon of the earth to show satellite photos of neighborhoods, like a spaceship touching down from place to place.

After a look at the main campus, Assistant to the President Don Girard zoomed off to the Bundy campus. The pictures, as it turned out, were three years old and showed the site as it was used by former owner, BAE Systems, which at that point was leasing the property from the College.

They used the parking lots the College wants to use and were allowed to go in and out of two City gates to streets emptying onto Airport Avenue, Girard said.

The College’s point: BAE’s use of the site was the same as the College’s planned use, only BAE was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The site had been used since the 1950’s without complaint, Girard said, adding that the day after BAE vacated the site, the City closed the gates without notifying the College.

When the College bought the property, the drawings and the appraisal indicated there would be access to Airport Avenue through the City’s gates, Donner said. There was no reason to think that would change.

In fact, when the City needs extra parking, the gates are opened wide, as they were on Sunday morning for the Antiques Fair, College officials said.

Josephs and Gabster called for the college to sign a binding agreement that would limit the campus’ growth, a proposal also favored by the City’s Airport Commission.

“Should this agreement be breached the college would forfeit vehicular access rights to airport property,” proposed Gabster.

When asked why the College didn’t sign a binding agreement, Girard replied, “The College Board of Trustees has a constitutional mission to provide educational access” to the region. A binding agreement would place “handcuffs” on the board, he said.

As for the shuttle, the City’s two proposed alternative sites -- the old Circuit City lot on Sepulveda in West Los Angeles and a Santa Monica beach parking lot -- were unacceptable to the College.

The beach lot wouldn’t be open enough hours, and it would be too unsafe, particularly in the evening, Donner said. He did pledge to move the shuttle service, but only when construction actually begins on Airport Park.

“If they’re ready to start construction on the first of November, we will clearly be out of that shuttle lot,” Donner said. “I certainly hope that the City will be sincere about that and not put a construction truck on the site and then do nothing for five months or a year.”

The tone of the evening’s dialogue bothered Board member Rob Rader, who urged all sides to stop demonizing each other, and look for “livable, if not optimal, solutions.”

After the Board unanimously approved the proposal, the trustees went into closed session to consider initiating litigation. There was no announcement by the board after the session, indicating that no action was taken.

The next act will unfold at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. It is expected to draw familiar figures, new and old, as the citizenry splits over the ongoing conflict.

Former Mayor Dennis Zane has prepared a survey that bolsters the College’s arguments.

Lifelong learning advocate Louise Jaffe has sent out an email in support of the College calling the City’s plan a “power grab.”

“I don’t think that is in keeping with the values of the community,” Jaffe said.

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