After a four-hour discussion last Tuesday, Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved several short-term measures in order to ease student access to Santa Monica College’s (SMC) Bundy campus.
The College purchased the 10-acre Bundy Campus at 3171 Bundy Drive from BAE Systems in December 2001 for $30 million and has spent $15 million renovating the property. The four-story, 64,000 square foot west building houses 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.
SMC began offering nursing, education, continuing and community programs and some general education courses at the campus in June. At the time, short-term measures were adopted by the City so the programs could operate during the summer and the fall.
The Council approvals last week extend pedestrian access to the Bundy Campus at Donald Douglas Loop South to December 20, 2005 and will right-turn only exiting of vehicles onto Airport Avenue at the same location. The right turns will only continue, if the City of Los Angeles installs a traffic signal on the northbound Bundy/Centinela lane by the campus entrance at or before the end of the College’s spring semester. Other conditions stipulated by the City were SMC’s waiving any property right claim to an easement from Airport Avenue to the Bundy Campus and releasing the City from any liability related to providing vehicle access to Airport Avenue.
Prior to the approvals, the Council heard from LA City Council member Bill Rosendahl, Interim College President Tom Donner as well as over 40 other speakers. Rosendahl told the Council he had called an emergency meeting on October 28 that included Santa Monica and SMC’s elected officials and residents from Santa Monica and Mar Vista because “the issue is out of hand and is causing serious safety concerns. When a student drives out of that parking lot on Bundy Avenue now and tries to make a left hand turn, there is a potential for an auto wreck. When a student is driving north on Bundy Boulevard and wants to make a left onto Bundy Avenue there’s also a potential for a car crash.” He went on to say that when his traffic engineers have reviewed the traffic analysis from Kaku Associates, he would help “expedite” the installation of a traffic signal at the corner of Bundy Avenue at the SMC driveway that would be paid for by SMC as “an interim step … to mitigate a potential crisis situation.”
Rosendahl concluded by saying that the City should allow vehicle egress from the campus onto a proposed extension of Donald Douglas Loop South with a right turn only onto Airport Avenue with any needed improvements to be paid for by SMC. He also requested that the college keep the Stewart gate closed – except in emergency situations – and that the cities of L. A. and Santa Monica and the college should pursue a long-term solution.
The request for the vehicle egress from Donald Douglas Loop South drew criticism from City staff, particularly City Attorney Marsha Moutrie who told the Council ,“Our belief … is that if the Council were to participate in granting access … ingress and egress from Airport Avenue across City property onto the campus there is a risk the City would be participating in a project as to which the environmental compliance hasn’t been done yet…this is a very environmentally minded city and that if an opponent of a particular project believes that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements have not been met, the opponent of the project can file a lawsuit” which could delay the project.
Donner told the Council that he “was surprised to hear about the issue being brought up about CEQA. In the discussions we’ve had that has not been a discussion item. We’ve been told this (DDLS access) would be treated as a temporary, as an experimental and an interim plan and that it was not going to trigger a CEQA issue.”
Council member Ken Genser brought up another issue of contention when he referred to a letter written by the College’s attorney, Chris Harding. The letter was written on the College’s behalf to the City attorney and in Genser’s view it “threatened [the City with litigation] if you don’t get what you want.” When he asked Donner to “clarify the College’s position with regard to what your rights are and your posture regarding litigation” Harding replied that Genser “was miscategorizing the letter” and later he stated, “It was a good faith attempt to avoid litigation.”
The Council also heard from the City’s education advocates as well as SMC students, all of whom spoke in favor of granting the College what was needed to keep the Bundy campus functioning. Shari Davis, co-chair of the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), expressed her organization’s support “for the programs housed at the Bundy Campus and we also strongly support making it possible for students to get to those programs at the Bundy Campus.” Like some other speakers, she stressed that “education and professional training for nurses and early childhood educators are extremely beneficial and an important resource for our community. These are essential services that are in very short supply both in our community and our region.”
On the other side of the issue were members of some of the City’s neighborhood groups. Loraine Sanchez, a member of the Friends of Sunset Park, said, “No one seems to be holding the college responsible for wasting public funds with poor planning, buying property that is surrounded by homes and inadequate and unsafe egress and ingress, refusing to obtain public input until after the site was developed and being able to do all of this with the highest ratio of administrators to staff in the community college system. The temporary solutions proposed may well become permanent …because the temporary agreement for the shuttle parking at the airport lasted 11 years.” She then concluded that the City should “hold the college responsible for solving its self inflicted problems and not our expense.”
Ocean Park resident Sue Miller told the Council, “It’s misleading to imply that residents who oppose traffic, air pollution, diesel fumes and safety hazards in their neighborhoods are anti-education. The truth is the college, in its way, has created this problem for students, residents and the City by expanding beyond its capacity. SMC has the highest density of any community college in the area and (I suspect) the state. SMC has about four times the number of students per acre as either El Camino College or Long Beach College and more than 18 times the density of Pierce College. Since the shuttle plan went into effect an estimated 2,400 extra car trips a day are routed into Ocean Park down Barnard Way to beach lot 5.”The beach lot shuttle was put into place because the student shuttle parking at the airport is no longer available, due to construction of the City’s new airport park. The Council voted to move student shuttle parking to the beach for a six-month period. It also suggested that SMC look into leasing alternative fuel buses for use as shuttles.