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Council Votes to Entertain College Proposal

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

July 28 -- After hours of public testimony, those members of the City Council who were still awake and present at 1:30 Wednesday morning cobbled together a motion they hoped would keep a conflict between the City and Santa Monica College from escalating, at least for the time being.

In a 4 to 0 vote, the Council agreed to extend a pedestrian access agreement to the College’s Bundy campus at the airport and asked City staff to analyze the problems dividing the two parties.

Council members expressed a willingness to use the College’s proposal -- adopted at a special meeting of its Board of Trustees Monday night -- as one of the starting points for further analysis of a seemingly intractable rat’s nest of conflicting views and interests.

The College’s plan -- outlined in a letter to the council – would, among other things, keep the shuttle service from the main campus 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. (see related story)

“I think this proposal coming out of the College has merits as a pilot program,” Mayor Pro Tem Katz said. “We’ve got to get off whether the College is at fault, whether we’ve had fault, whether L.A.’s had fault, I don’t care.

“Let’s start right now,” Katz said. “Let’s take this proposal, work with it, see if we can do it.”

Tuesday’s vote seemed to mark a cease fire in an ongoing dispute that started last November between City and College officials, who have not been able to agree on how to let students and faculty get in and out of the parking lots for the new campus the College has spent $15 million renovating.

Perhaps responding to an appearance earlier Tuesday night by Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl, council members and College representatives agreed on one point -- negotiations ought to include the City of Los Angeles, which borders on the airport.

In an address that covered everything from beach pollution to light rail, Rosendahl made it clear that he would back his Mar Vista constituents on this issue.

“The only solution acceptable to my constituents is Airport Avenue -- going to the west on it, going to the east on it, being able to make a right and a left on both the ingress and the egress,” said Rosendahl.

Actually the College is asking for less leeway, and is willing to let the City control the direction of traffic if it gets to use the street.

But the real drama of the evening came during public comments. Of the more than 25 speakers who’d signed up to testify, 24 felt strongly enough stay past midnight.

Council members Richard Bloom and Bobby Shriver weren’t as tough, leaving the meeting shortly after midnight because they had early mornings.

And from the first speaker on, it was clear they weren’t going to have an easy time of it. Council member Ken Genser questioned most of the speakers who supported the College, turning public comments into sometimes fierce debates.

College professor Leslie Kawaguchi was first up to the plate. Calling the Bundy campus “essential to the College,” she urged the council to support the College’s proposal.

“I’m not a college professor, so maybe I just don’t understand this,” Genser responded. “But you’re saying we’re denying access.

“Why are we denying access?” he asked. “You’re not even adjacent to Airport Avenue.”

Kawaguchi, whose comments hadn’t addressed this particular point, was at a loss, and her answer didn’t satisfy Genser.

“Why are we denying access to Airport any more than we are denying the College’s access to 20th Street, the main campus,” Genser persisted.

“I guess you’ve got me there, I’m working at a point right now where I’ve been up since 5 this morning ,” a shaken Kawaguchi answered before she left the podium.

Maria Loya, Chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association, fared a little better. She explained that cancellation of classes at the Bundy campus would hurt Pico residents who are students at the College.

“I don’t understand how this fits together in peoples’ minds,” responded Genser. “Why would we be responsible for any possible cancellation of classes?”

“It’s my understanding that if there’s a problem with access to the Airport Avenue, the College needs to seriously consider canceling the classes because they would then have to move that to the main site and there’s already the issue of space constraint on the main site,” Loya answered.

“Do you believe that?” Genser challenged.

“Do I believe that? Yes I do,” Loya answered without hesitation.

The exchange between Genser and College President Thomas J. Donner went on for nearly half an hour, turning into an argument that touched on the validity of historical access to the property, shuttle relocation, possible litigation and interagency communication.

Of all the speakers, 15 showed up to voice support for the College, and five spoke as members of resident groups who are concerned that the campus will increase traffic in their neighborhoods.

The detail that seemed to win over some council support was articulated by College Trustee Susan Aminoff, who pointed out that the College is asking for Airport Avenue access for a year, not indefinitely.

“The College’s response to this staff proposal contains the notion of a pilot project,” Aminoff said.

“I’m a social scientist and a fan of pilot projects,” she said. “They test hypotheses.”

City staff is expected to report back to the Council at its meeting on August 9.

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