On Monday evening, Santa Monica College’s (SMC) Board of trustees met in emergency session to unanimously approve a letter responding to a City of Santa Monica staff report regarding access to the College’s new Bundy Campus that was scheduled to be heard by the City Council last night.
According to the staff report, “In June, 2005, the City and SMC entered into an agreement that provided temporary pedestrian access to the Bundy Campus from Santa Monica Airport for the summer session” through August 11. “SMC completed improvements under the agreement that facilitated the permitted pedestrian access to the campus from an Airport lot leased to the College for shuttle parking…[however] SMC intends to continue operations at this site in the fall and has requested that this agreement be extended through the fall semester which begins on August 29,..and that it provide for vehicle as well as pedestrian access from Airport Avenue.”
The staff report goes on to say “It is reasonable to extend the temporary pedestrian access agreement until October 15 [as] construction of the Airport Park commences November 1 after which date SMC parking for the Bundy Campus cannot be accommodated at the Airport…the fall session student population using the shuttle service and attending classes at the Bundy campus is significantly greater than that for the summer session. There are not enough parking spaces in the Airport lot to accommodate both the College shuttle service demand and the Bundy Campus parking demand. Consequently, the College must make interim arrangements for shuttle parking for the fall session…and use the lot it currently leases from the Airport solely for those attending classes at the Bundy Campus…prior to the execution of an extension of the pedestrian access agreement.”
The City staff report recommended “that the City, the City of Los Angeles and SMC immediately commence discussions to cooperatively identify parking and traffic management solutions for SMC operations system-wide.”
In its letter, the SMC board suggests a substitute proposal that would give SMC vehicle and pedestrian access from its Bundy Campus directly to Airport Avenue from August 20, 2005, to August 19, 2006 to avoid significant hardship to our students.”
Such access would include the following conditions:
a. The College shall pay for all roadway improvements necessary to provide access. During construction of roadway improvements, access shall be provided through one of the gates used by BAE Systems [the past owner of the site].
b. The College shall pay $1,000,000 to the City as the College’s mitigation share for planned improvements along Airport Avenue.
c. The City shall restrict left turns onto Airport Avenue from vehicles exiting the Bundy Campus during such hours of College use, as the City deems appropriate. Public transportation vehicles shall be exempt from such left turn restrictions.
d. The College shall relocate its existing Airport shuttle in time so as to not delay the start of construction of the Airport Park.
In addition, the College proposed that “the City and College shall continue to meet to discuss cooperative measures to reduce traffic from College operations and upon adoption by the Board of Trustees of the master plan for the Bundy Campus, the College shall meet to discuss an extension of the access agreement.”
Interim College President Tom Donner told the College Board Monday that the purchase of the Bundy Campus was part of the College’s enrollment management policy to help “downsize the main campus by using self-contained satellite campuses to reduce vehicle trips to the main campus. The College’s satellite campuses along with their shuttle and improved weekly and annual class scheduling have meant [that] about 25 percent of student credit hours are provided by ways that reduce vehicle trips to the main campus.”
Public transit, online education, rideshare, bicycling and walking have led to another “25 percent of student credit hours are provided by ways that eliminate all vehicle trips” to SMC.
Donner also stressed that when the Bundy Campus was purchased the “paperwork that we received indicated that the property would continue to have access to Airport Avenue. There was no reason that College thought this access would suddenly be cut off.”
Responding to the City staff report, the College letter stated, “at issue is the opening of the now locked gates that provide access to SMC’s Bundy Campus site to Airport Avenue. These gates have been open for decades, and remained open after the College bought the site in 2001 and during the time BAE Systems operated at the site under lease from the College. As soon as BAE ended its lease, the City locked the gates without any notice to the College.”
Donner also objected to the City’s approach to traffic management that he described as “reduc[ing[ the demand for parking…I find it very difficult to take a public benefit like a community college and say reduce the demand. Community colleges are a very unique item in the world of education. We’re as many chances as it takes [for a person] to get an education. When the City decides that it wants to cut access to public education it makes me very upset. Why is the College being singled out … as a public benefit that does not get treated as other public benefits are?”
College Board Trustee Rob Rader pointed out “The City’s traffic is not caused by us and we’re willing to take responsibility for mitigation of the additional traffic we did generate..”
The Board’s Chair Carole Currey then noted that the College made the effort to go out listen and respond to the Bundy Campus’s neighbors’ concerns and asked “What other neighbor would be as good as the College has been?”
Neighbors of the new campus disagreed. Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) President Zina Josephs told the Board “the college administration has pursued a strategy of separating Mar Vista and Santa Monica residents, but they have not been very successful. We’ve attended each other’s meetings and continue to exchange email. I believe the City would be more willing to sign an access agreement if you adhered to the Santa Monica Airport Commission’s June 27 recommendation for a binding agreement, which would limit square footage, parking, spaces, and enrollment according to what’s in the Master Plan. If not, the Master Plan is just a bunch of words. Because, as Don Girard [the College’s Director of Marketing] told the FOSP Board members at his last meeting, the College’s mandate is to provide programs, and it will expand, no matter what’s in the Master Plan.”
Another FOSP Board member Eric Gabster pointed out that “a regional college with 75 percent
of its enrollment living outside of Santa Monica and Malibu needs to acknowledge that its impacts are regional as well. Solutions to problems related to density, traffic, and circulation cannot be addressed in an ad hoc manner. We support” the City staff’s recommendations.
Mar Vista resident Glen Howell stated that the College did a project like this “with no environmental Impact Report (EIR) by whitewashing the whole situation by saying we’re going to operate in no different way than like BAE did…the College put in a road, Bundy Drive, that was a never there before.”
The only resident who supported the College position was Santa Monica resident Jerry Rubin who told the Board “don’t take the traffic problems out on the students. We need to move forward with their education.”
The College tried to bolster its case for its Bundy Campus by reporting on a community survey that has been underway since April 20.
2276 people have taken part in the door-to-door survey in the 90401, 90402, 90403, 90404 and the 90505 zip code areas. The survey found that one-third of the “respondents or their families have attended SMC within the last five years.”
The survey also found that “71 percent of the respondents believe traffic and parking problems in Santa Monica to be ‘severe’ and “24 percent of respondents believe traffic and parking problems in Santa Monica to be ‘moderate.”
The “top five causes of local traffic (multiple answers were permitted) were excess local development (41 percent), regional traffic growth (36 percent), inadequate parking for residents (30 percent), poor planning of streets and traffic lights (26 percent) and inadequate transit system (24 percent).
The survey also asked residents whether SMC is the cause of local traffic. “Only 7 percent of respondents Citywide identified SMC to be a primary cause of local traffic and parking problems and only 14 percent of respondents on 23rd Street and on Cloverfield south of Pico identified SMC to be a primary cause of local traffic and parking problems.”
Seventy percent of the respondents in the survey citywide supported developing satellite campuses, and 84 percent of respondents on 23rd Street and Cloverfield south of Pico support developing satellite campuses.”
As for enrollment, the survey found that “respondents Citywide, expressing an opinion, overwhelmingly reject reducing student enrollment (89 percent). 88 percent of respondents on 23rd and on Cloverfield south of Pico also rejected reducing student enrollment.
The College purchased the 10-acre Bundy Campus at 3171 Bundy Drive from BAE Systems on December 2001 for $30 Million and has spent $15 Million renovating the property. The four-story West Building contains 64,000 square feet that includes classrooms, conference rooms, computer labs, study areas, a food service room, faculty and counselor offices, a small library, a small bookstore and a state-of-the-art nursing lab.
The two-story structure on the property is currently vacant. The new campus also has 609 parking spaces, with the long-range Master Plan calling for an additional 80 spaces. Currently, only disabled students and faculty are permitted to park on the campus’ lot.
The programs currently being offered at the West Building include nursing, education, continuing and community education and some general education courses.At presstime last night, the Council was still hearing from college officials, trustees, supporters and critics on the question, and no decision had been made.