Jewish Student Center Unanimously Approved by Planning Commission


Proposed Hillel complex (Image courtesy of Hillel of San Diego)

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San Diego Planning Commission members voted 6-0 to approve UC San Diego Hillel’s bid to build a privately owned Jewish student center across from Revelle College in a public hearing April 27. The proposal will now go before the City Council to receive final approval for construction, though a date for this has yet to be determined.

The proposed Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center is a 6,479 square foot facility located at the corner of La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Way. It has been in the works since 2000, when the San Diego City Council voted to grant UCSD Hillel exclusive rights to the land.

Since then, the city council has blocked the project twice, most recently in 2008. Following Thursday’s hearing, Commissioners Whalen, Otsuji, Granowitz, Austin, Hofman, and Peerson voted in favor of the motion to approve construction, with Commissioner Haase absent.

The student center consists of three one-and-two-story buildings that would house a chapel, library, student lounge, public park, and meeting spaces. The architect, Mark Steele, also designed the Melvin Garb Hillel Center at San Diego State University.

“We have small group meetings and one-on-one mentorship, but any sort of larger program takes place currently on campus in rented facilities,” said Rabbi David Singer, Director of Hillel at UCSD. “Because we do not actually have a building, we are significantly short-handed in our capacity to support students and carry out our mission. Space at UC San Diego is hard to come by and expensive.”

The proposed center would allow Hillel to continue to grow. The organization has doubled in size over the past year. Currently, Hillel offices are located in a private residence across from the proposed site.

However, the center has faced staunch opposition from local residents and community groups, notably the nonprofit Taxpayers for Responsible Land Use (TRLU). In 2009, TRLU unsuccessfully sued the City of San Diego for selling the parcel to UCSD Hillel.

“Nobody from TRLU has any problem with UCSD students or Hillel,” said Julie Hamilton, a local land use lawyer and TRLU representative.”There’s no doubt that Hillel is a good organization that serves a good purpose. Unfortunately, a 6,000 square foot student center across from single-family residences is not appropriate.”

Local homeowners raised issues with the potential traffic, noise, and size of events the project would bring to their neighborhood.. The new Environmental Impact Report prepared for the Glickman Hillel Center by the city allows Hillel to host up to 150 guests for eight events each year, and up to 220 for four events per year.

The project presented on Thursday was significantly altered from the original proposal, to address residents’ concerns. It is now seeking LEED Silver environmental certification, and will generate 30 percent of its own power via solar panels mounted above the surface parking. In 2009, the floor area of the student center was reduced from 13,000 square feet to its current size. The 60 underground parking spots were also reduced to 27 surface spots, which TRLU considers insufficient.

“Accepting 27 parking spaces for a facility that is allowed to have events for as many as 220 people is going to hurt the neighborhood,” Hamilton told The Triton. “But [underground parking] would not have solved the problem, because again, it’s the placement of the student center in a single-family residential neighborhood.”

However, students at the hearing disputed this assessment.

“We don’t use cars,” said David Moll, a third-year computer science major. “We walk — in my case, bike — and travel further distances by bus or shuttle. That’s how we and those who come after us will get to the Glickman Hillel Center.”

Fourth-year human biology major Jake Harrington agreed, citing the example of Hillel’s recent Passover seder. “There were maybe five, six cars that came. No traffic concerns, and as far as I know we didn’t get any noise complaints or have to shut down.” He added that the Glickman Hillel Center would allow Hillel to host events such as Passover seder at a more spacious venue and grow their reach.

“Being a part of Hillel has really allowed me to learn a whole lot from the different leaders in that Hillel organization,” said Harrington, a participant in Hillel’s Triton Jewish Leaders program. “For instance, David Singer and Sophie Needelman helped me out a whole lot in becoming a really good speaker and learning how to make events good for everyone.”

Hillel describes Triton Jewish Leaders as an “incubator mobilizing student leaders through individualized mentorship and empowering them as catalysts of change.” It focuses on equipping individual Jewish students, who rarely meet as a large group, with leadership skills. Harrington’s Hillel-related projects include Challah for Hunger, in which a member bakes challah bread at the current facility for the organization to sell on Library Walk to raise money for food insecurity.

“Hillel has done a really good job of making sure that [the Jewish community] comes together for either Shabbats or Jewish holidays or regular old things,” said Harrington. “They’re bringing a lot more of the campus together, and I feel that a way that it can really be much better is having a place like the Hillel Center.”

Planning commission members agreed that the project would revitalize an empty, unsightly lot. “I think it’s a great project, and I think the community’s going to be happy to have it once they see it,” said Planning Commissioner Douglas Austin.

Commissioner Vicki Granowitz also approved of the site, but pressed the Hillel representatives on security and noise concerns.

“I remember bomb threats at my synagogue,” she said, “and you’ve got a park on here.” She referenced a report by Tammy Gillies, regional director of the San Diego Anti-Defamation League, which stated that hate crimes against the Jewish community have spiked 86 percent since November.

Singer responded that they were cognizant of safety concerns, especially in light of recent threats to the Congregation Beth-El synagogue on Gilman Drive. He noted that access to the center would be tightly controlled and students’ security was their utmost priority.

TRLU plans to oppose project approval at the upcoming City Council meeting. Hillel says that they are excited to have received the unanimous support of the planning commission and look forward to the council meeting and the construction of the Glickman Hillel Center.

“[I]t is clear that today, we, UC San Diego Hillel, La Jolla, San Diego’s Jewish community all achieved something remarkable, unbelievable even,” Singer said in a public Facebook post. “[W]e realized the affirmation of the mantra that ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’ There have been so many times that pundits, friends even, called this effort over. Yet, today, we reached unanimity.”

Rohan Grover is a staff writer for The Triton.

This article has been updated to state that David Moll is a third-year; a previous version stated Moll is a fourth-year.