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Traffic Concerns Sideswipe EIR Debate

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

October 18 -- Nearly 100 local residents and college supporters remained gridlocked as they tried to work out their differences over Santa Monica College’s new satellite campus at a meeting Monday night.

Although the Bundy Campus Environmental Impact Report (EIR) -- which covers a host of issues ranging from water use to air pollution -- was the ostensible focus of the meeting, the gathering quickly devolved into a long-standing debate on traffic and parking.

The sticking point was -- and has been for months -- how to get cars to and from the new Bundy campus without increasing traffic in Mar Vista and Sunset Park.

While some campus neighbors weren’t about to give up the fight, others were getting tired of the contentious struggle.

“I find it quite irksome that the access has become such a difficult issue,” said lifelong learning advocate Louise Jaffe.

She likened the extended debate -- which has drawn in City officials from Santa Monica and Los Angeles -- to a joke about “how many government institutions does it take to park a car?”

The Bundy Campus with proposed improvements according to the current draft of the College's Master Plan. Parking access points are marked with red circled numbers. The College only plans to use numbers three and five, at the Bundy Avenue driveway and at Donald Douglas Loop. Plans call for all other entrances to remain closed.

College officials urged compromise.

“If we work together, we can get it solved and we will get it solved,” Interim College President Thomas Donner told the crowd gathered in a community meeting room at the new campus.

But some residents weren’t sold, either on the college’s solutions or on how it’s reaching them.

Zina Josephs, president of Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP), implied that the process was rigged as she read off a list of numbers and facts that have changed from college document to document, changes which make “the increase in traffic look smaller than it will be,” she said.

And FOSP member Eric Gabster accused the College of high-handed dealing when he prefaced his recommendations with the phrase “assuming this is not going to be solely a bureaucratic exercise tonight.”

However, at the close of the meeting Donner wanted residents to know that their concerns were being heard and acted upon in good faith.

“The process, I’m sure, is not one everyone agrees with,” Donner said. “But there have been tremendous changes from what we started with and what we are doing now.”

Some at the college were afraid that education, the real mission of the campus, was getting lost in the traffic and parking shuffle.

“The State of California is going to need thousands and thousands of teachers in the future,” said Edith Spain, Chair of Early Childhood Education, a Bundy Campus program that trains the community’s child care workers.

“I think you want to be part of that momentum, rather than any momentum that prevents them from efficiently finishing their education,” Spain said.

Judy Abdo agreed. As the Santa Monica-Malibu School District’s director of Child Development Services she’s felt the teacher crunch first hand as she’s tried to fill vacant assistant teacher positions.

Referring to fallout from the traffic debate that’s contributed to tension between the College and the City, Abdo, a former mayor herself, urged officials from both sides to overcome their differences.

“The institutions may have made mistakes, may have problems getting along together,” Abdo said. “I think they need to stop, take a deep breath and learn to get along together.”

The Cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles have gotten involved in the conflict, as Mar Vista residents complain that traffic exiting the Bundy campus to the east will spill over into their neighborhood while Sunset Park residents predict that traffic approaching and leaving the campus on Airport Avenue will further clog 23rd Street.

Residents on both sides of the campus accuse the College of pitting the neighborhoods against each other.

Various proposed solutions include adding a traffic light at the campus driveway onto Bundy Avenue -- which the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has opposed -- and having the City of Santa Monica grant access from the parking lot to Airport Avenue via Donald Douglas Loop -- which the City has so far resisted.

So far, none of these solutions, nor any others, have satisfied all the parties involved.

Currently, Bundy students park at the old shuttle lot on Airport Avenue and walk to their classes along a circuitous route granted by the City of Santa Monica for temporary access.

But this arrangement may not go on much longer, as the City plans to start digging up the shuttle lot to build its new Airport Park in November, leaving students with no place to park near campus.

The next steps to completing the EIR are for college planners to meet, analyze their findings and draft a report, at which time the community will be notified, according to Shane Parker, environmental consultant to the college.

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