University of La Verne’s new parking structure creates controversy
by Kristina Bugante
photography by Sara Flores
The University of La Verne as we know it now is a small, humble, mostly sleepy commuter campus, tucked at the foot of a modest, yet charming downtown La Verne. But such a University needs an appearance to match its rich history and penchant for community outreach. The University has extensive plans to maximize the campus — perhaps a student 20 years from now will experience one with towering, more technologically advanced academic buildings and laboratories, more dining halls, or a new dormitory. Current students might find these goals far-fetched and unbelievable, but change is coming a lot closer and faster than they expect — change that will dramatically alter the physical landscape of the campus. The newest addition to the rapidly evolving University of La Verne is something one does not really expect to see on a tiny campus with a little more than 2,000 undergraduates — a five-level parking structure, set to break ground this October.
Look to the near future, to the fall of 2016: A commuter student turns onto D Street from Arrow Highway. The first thing he may see, as his car bumps over some railroad tracks, is an immense parking structure. Rewind to spring 2015: The structure’s location was known as Lot D, the campus’ largest on-site parking lot that accommodated 380 vehicles. Rewind another five years, and that parking lot was a baseball field. All of these changes were expedited by the University within a short period of time to alleviate parking problems. The rushed nature of this project is indicative of what the University plans to accommodate in the future: According to its 2020 Strategic Vision, ULV plans to heighten its reputation, visibility and prominence as an institution, and it has plans to achieve those goals within an established timeline. However, some have raised the question of whether a parking structure will bolster the achievement of educational excellence that the University promises to uphold. The questions raised by the structure go into the heart of campus and city politics. Is parking really a problem here? How can a parking structure come before a new academic building?
Aligning with the Master Plan
The University submitted a request in November 2014 for the construction of the structure that will occupy a portion of parking Lot D, located south of the Campus Center. The structure will hold almost 950 cars, stand 45 feet high and will be 339,416 square feet — three times larger than the Vista La Verne dormitory and eight times bigger than the Campus Center. “That can tell you how big this structure’s going to be,” says Chip West, assistant vice president of capital planning, facilities and space management. To spearhead construction, the University has selected Bomel Construction and IPD (International Parking Design), companies that have built parking structures at nearby universities such as Cal Poly Pomona, Chapman University, Cal State Fullerton and more. Sustainability will also play into the structure. Solar panels will be installed on the top floor. “Those solar panels will power the structure itself, all the lighting inside the structure, the Campus Safety and Transportation Office in the structure, the surrounding lots and Leo Park,” West says. Electric vehicle charging stations, bike storage and lockers and LED lighting are other planned features of the structure, along with drought-tolerant plants around the site.
The parking structure is listed under the Master Plan (the University’s plan for future facilities and technologies for the next 15 years) that was proposed in 2007 and was approved by the city the same year. In the 2007 plan, there are planned projects that are sectioned among three, five-year long phases. A “potential parking structure” was part of the last phase in the 2007 master plan. The final phases of the master plan are “conjecture,” says Clive Houston-Brown, vice president of facilities and technology. The 2007 Master Plan included the many buildings and renovations the University community can see today, such as the Frank and Nadine Johnson Family Plaza, the Sports and Sciences Pavilion, Campus West and Morgan Auditorium.
In spring 2014, a new version of the Master Plan was developed and presented to the ULV community. This plan aspires for another dining hall and more academic buildings. However, the University decided a parking structure should be built before other projects. “The only way that we could move on this project as quickly as we have is that it already has to be part of the Master Plan,” West says. Houston-Brown says that the Master Plan has to constantly be revisited. “The further down a plan you get, the more you say OK, maybe it’s time to realign,” he says. “Even though we did the 2007 Master Plan, seven and a half years later, we’re redoing it, because things have changed. Seven years ago, we were on a decline in enrollment. Seven years ago, we couldn’t fill our beds in the residence halls. Seven years ago, we had no real parking problems yet. Now things are a whole lot different.”
Houston-Brown says the University has a self-imposed timeline to complete the structure. Ten months after the start of construction, just before the start of the fall semester in August 2016, there are hopes that the structure will be ready for use. “So that’s a problem coming right out of the gate.” West says. “There’s pressure to get this done.” In the meantime students, faculty and staff will have to deal with the repercussions of the absence of Lot D, which is currently the second-largest parking lot on the main campus, behind the off-campus A Street shuttle lot (Lot S). Starting in August only employees with parking permits and resident students will be allowed to park on on-campus lots. All commuter students and employees without parking permits will have to utilize the current shuttle service and a new Fairplex shuttle service that will accommodate around 400 vehicles after the L.A. County Fair at the end of September. “It will be a challenging year in terms of parking,” West says. “Building one single big structure that everyone (could go to is) actually a lot easier and reduces the amount of traffic that’s going in and around in our streets.”
Parking distress emerges from downtown
Parking is not a unique problem to the University of La Verne; it is a pretty common one among colleges and universities. However with the University’s main campus being so ingrained with downtown La Verne and non-University city residents and neighborhoods, finding a parking space could feel like the prime dilemma on campus. With the constant changes to parking circumstances over the past few years, such as the introduction to the A Street shuttle lot, the banning of residential street parking and now the reduction in time allowed in the parking slots along Bonita Avenue, B, D and E streets, the ULV community could get understandably frustrated with the idea of finding parking on campus. “Because we’re so intermixed and the University has lots of parking lots that are sort of spread out throughout the campus, that creates a lot of back-and-forth between students, faculty, staff, merchants and customers in Old Town,” says Rafferty Wooldridge, associate city planner for La Verne. Houston-Brown says in the past the city imposed a formula for every ULV constituent to a single parking space ratio. “(For) every x number of residents and students, commuters, faculty and staff, you got to have x number of parking spaces,” he says. “The realization was that formula was not working.”
In summer 2014, the city conducted a study through the Mobility Group and JR Parking to examine the existing parking conditions of downtown La Verne. The study found that ULV members used 34 percent, or 217, of the parking spaces designated to downtown — 168 of them on-street spaces and 49 of them off-street spaces. The study also found that ULV constituents have also been parking beyond downtown on C Street between Bonita Avenue and Fifth Street, and on Second Street between E Street and F Street. City councilman Charlie Rosales says the study found that ULV was 75 percent of the parking problem in downtown. “(Downtown) has kind of had a good resurgence of businesses and has become quite popular, so sometimes there’s that conflict between customers trying to get in and students that are parking long-term,” Wooldridge says. Don Kendrick, mayor of La Verne, says the success of the University correlates with the success of downtown. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he says. The study found that University members were parking in city lots and residential areas, which resulted in the changing of the limited-time spots to increase parking turnover. “The situation’s just become more and more aggravated over time as our enrollment has grown, as our number of residents on campus has grown,” Houston-Brown says. “Our University constituents parking in the city, on the city streets, in city parking lots and in the housing areas, has become more and more aggravated to where the residents (and) the merchants are complaining bitterly to the city council.”
Despite the University’s efforts to lure the ULV community out of the downtown parking, Rosales says ULV constituents have not been very cooperative. For example the shuttle lot is almost never at full capacity, even during peak times on a school day. Most commuters do not use the shuttle lot because it is more convenient to park on campus rather than in an off-site lot. “One of the problems is, is that the faculty, staff and students find it difficult to park away from the University, and when you don’t look to be a part of the solution, then everybody loses because we’re not helpful in the parking situation of the businesses,” Kendrick says.
The University did not believe the findings of the city’s parking study would be too unfavorable, but the study found the University was about 650 spaces short. “We contested that and said, ‘We don’t think it’s that high,’” Houston-Brown says. Later the University and the city reached a compromise to add at least 340 spaces to the inventory. “Now had (ULV’s parking alternatives) been accomplished in a way that (the) cooperative level would have been at a higher percentage, we might have been able to talk about some other ways to explore options as opposed to a parking structure,” Rosales says. He says there needs to be a “spirit of cooperation and giving” between ULV, the city, residents and merchants.
A “Good Neighbor Policy” has recently been implemented in the University’s Vehicle Parking Statement of Policy. The policy calls for “positive relations with all parties in and around Downtown La Verne,” and all students and employees are expected to park in University-designated lots. “This University is not an isolated space outside of its surrounding environment,” says University President Devorah Lieberman. “The more we respect the neighbors, and park in our own lots when we’re not living in the neighborhoods and not shopping…we’ll help the economy of the city.”
Opposition to a questionable mandate
Perhaps the strongest voice against the structure is Jay Jones, professor of biology. As an environmentalist and the University’s biggest critic when it comes to its efforts for sustainability, Jones’ arguments do not stop at the automobile being the biggest problem of this planet, or the copious amount of carbon dioxide that is produced for every ton of concrete.
In the 2007 Master Plan, “potential academic buildings” are listed under phase three. “When they put Vista La Verne in there, the Board (of Trustees) promised that the next building would be an academic building,” Jones says. “An academic building, no specifications.” Jones says that because of the University’s roots from the Church of the Brethren, in the past, the University was not aggressive in gathering funds. Before Stephen Morgan, predecessor of current President Lieberman, the institution was in really bad financial shape, though the values of the University were still intact, Jones says. “Steve Morgan however, through Skip Maniero and so forth, focused on making sure we had a balanced budget,” Jones says. “They did that in a way which envisioned only doing the types of capital projects that would fit within the budget as they saw them. What that means is that you don’t go beyond your envelope.”
When the news of the parking structure first broke in fall 2014, the University said the structure was a city mandate. “The city has made clear there’s no expansion until parking is resolved,” Houston-Brown says. “If we cannot accommodate our existing students, faculty and staff in terms of parking, how can we expand and look to bring in more?” On the contrary, Kendrick says the University itself decided to expedite the project. “The University believes that’s the right thing the do; the city believes it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “And we appreciate that.”
Rosales says he admires the University for the parking structure decision. “(ULV) did something unprecedented in the city, and I admire the University for taking this giant leap,” he says. West and Houston-Brown say they are aware that the campus is in need of a new academic building. “But the parking structure is just part of the infrastructure that has to be in place before you can build that or a residence hall or anything. We’re not saying one takes precedence over the other,” Houston-Brown says. Jones questions whether the University is really committed to promoting educational excellence. “One of the ways an institution expresses its values is in its actions,” Jones says. “The best way that I can describe (the situation of the structure) and I think this captures it well: We are an institution that’s all about education and less committed to it.”
Matt Witt, professor of public administration and president of ULV’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, also brings up the question of whether parking really is the University’s top priority at this time. “I believe in more investments with education,” he says. “How will this parking structure benefit students in the long run?”
The University has taken many measures to alleviate the parking problem, such as partnering with Foothill Transit to provide a free farecard, or “Class Pass,” for ULV students and employees. Since fall 2013 there have been over 500 participants, and it continues to grow. The University has also partnered with Zipcar, a program where ULV members could pay to use a self-service car that is ready to use on campus. Last fall Campus Safety created the Leo Bike Library, where students, faculty and staff can borrow a bike for use. “Sure there’s a note that goes out that we should carpool and all of this,” Jones says. “But the University doesn’t feel it, doesn’t mean it.” Jones suggested that encouraging alternatives to driving, such as biking, carpooling and using public transportation can become social activities within the community that can be integrated with the values of the University and administrative decisions. “Why didn’t they have the forethought, when they spent the $2 million to (renovate) the shuttle lot, to do a multi-story structure over there?” Jones says. “And then they wouldn’t have to disturb this parking lot; it would be available for use for academic purposes because our central campus is very cramped.” Lieberman says the University will be growing, but in the meantime, building a parking structure should go first. “Would I want to put this much money in a parking structure first?” she says. “Not necessarily. We had no option.”