Donald H. Harrison
San Diego (special) -- With the blessings of most of the San Diego City Council, the Hillel organization begins exclusive negotiations today to obtain a city-owned triangular lot near the UCSD campus which some neighbors wanted preserved as open space.
The City Council voted 8-1, with Councilwoman Judy McCarty dissenting, to permit Will Griffith, the city's real estate assets director, to negotiate with Hillel for the sale or long-term lease of the land that is bound by La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla Scenic Drive North and Torrey Pines Road.
The first meeting is scheduled today among Griffith and Hillel board members Herb Solomon and Neil Singer, respectively an attorney and a real estate consultant.
Known simply at "Lot 653" on city records, the 15,000-square-foot parcel had been designated for open space in the La Jolla Community Plan -- a fact that opponents relied on at the City Council meeting of Monday, Nov. 20, in arguing against its acquisition by Hillel.
But City Councilman Harry Mathis, who will continue to represent the La Jolla area until the new council takes office on Monday, said he was impressed by the services that Hillel, a Jewish cultural organization, provides for students, especially its leadership training.
Another supporter, Councilman Juan Vargas -- who soon will take office in Sacramento as a state assemblyman -- alluded in council discussion to the fact that 50 years ago real estate developers tried to keep La Jolla off limits to minorities including Jews.
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, director of Hillel, told HERITAGE that she believed Penelope Burke, a leader of the opposition, when she told her that anti Semitism was not a factor in the residents' opposition to Hillel.
The rabbi said that now that the City Council has given its approval to the possible acquisition, Hillel will seek the input of neighbors in the design of whatever facility is built there. Additionally, she said, Hillel will honor a request that a sign be built on the property "welcoming people to La Jolla."
Currently Hillel is housed in an on-campus office of no more than 700 square feet. It shares the office with four Christian organizations, representing the Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans and the Campus Crusade for Christ.
While providing the opportunity for interesting inter-religious discussion, the quarters are too cramped to permit students "to have a place to come and hang out," Goldstein said.
Assuming that Hillel is able to purchase both City Lot 653 and an adjoining piece of land which the city had once reserved for a street, but which it now considers surplus, Hillel would like to build a 10,000 square foot building which would include a study center, a kosher kitchen, offices and a multi-purpose area, according to Goldstein.
"We are really excited about this," she said. "We want to have a place which students can call home, a place where they can come and do their homework."
While neighbors were concerned about the Hillel center's possible impact on traffic, Goldstein said most students will either walk to the center or park in an on-campus lot just across the street.
Hillel board member Singer said while the City Council vote was an important development, it doesn't seal the deal yet. The city and Hillel have to agree upon a price for the land, and whatever facility is designed needs to win approval from the City Planning Department.
Hillel had offered $450,000 to purchase City Lot 653, and another $150,000 for the adjoining 17,500 square foot, sloping parcel once reserved for a street, making the total purchase offer $600,000. Should the city government insist instead on a long-term lease, Hillel has offered to pay $30,000 a year for the Lot 6553 alone, or $45,000 a year if the former street is also thrown into the deal.
Griffith said the meeting today with Solomon and Singer probably will focus on a timetable for having the value of the two properties assessed. He said Hillel will be permitted to expedite matters by having its building plans go through the community planning process even while the sale or lease negotiations are in progress.
It is possible that the process may take more than a year, according to the city official. That should give Hillel time to raise money not only for the property near UCSD but also for expected construction of a new facility at San Diego State University, according to Singer.
While Hillel now occupies a house adjacent to the SDSU campus, it sits in an area that the San Diego State University Foundation has indicated will be redeveloped, Singer said. Hillel's headquarters at SDSU accordingly would be moved to another area nearby.