A decade ago, struggling Marymount Palos Verdes College--its enrollment down to 116 and its deficit up to $170,000--limped onto the campus of a former girls' school on a 22-acre promontory overlooking the Pacific.
"Most people thought we would fail," said Dr. Thomas D. Wood, president of the two-year Roman Catholic liberal arts college in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Failure, however, was not in the college's future. It began to prosper after a few more lean years, and by the late 1970s enrollment had climbed to nearly 300 students. It has nearly doubled since then and the deficit has long since vanished.
Night classes were started, and two years ago the college began a program for working adults that meets two weekends a month. The program has 162 students.
"We are recognized as a unique educational resource," said Wood.
But an organized group of residents near the college have another word to describe it. They call it a nuisance that produces noise, litter and a gaggle of automobiles driven by students who use their streets for parking, sometimes blocking driveways and access to fire hydrants.
"We moved into a residential area promising quiet," said spokeswoman Mary Knight. "But every day the environment is changing for the worse."
Sharon Hightower, city director of environmental services, described the situation as a classic clash between homes and other land uses. "Residential areas always are in conflict with anything different," she said.
The residents recently filed a petition with the city asking that the college be declared a nuisance for alleged violations of a conditional use permit the city issued to the college in 1975. That permit allowed Marymount to move to the former girls' school on Palos Verdes Drive East from another site in the city that had been sold to the Salvation Army.
Residents along San Ramon Drive, where some homes back up against college grounds and where the parking problem is said to be the most severe, have asked for a parking zone that would restrict the street to residents and their guests between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Knight, who lives on San Ramon, said she has counted 25 to 30 cars on the street during school hours. She said residents do not want permit parking but have been "forced to ask for it."
Although the controversy has been simmering for a long time, officials say this is the first time it has reached the City Council, which is scheduled to take it up on Tuesday. The discussion is expected to range from the parking situation and compliance with permit conditions to control of the college's growth and scope.
Wood said an 87-car parking lot he wants completed by July 1 should relieve much of the parking problem, although he concedes that some cars still will spill into the streets.
Knight said the neighborhood needs permit parking now to deal with its immediate problem. Even if there is more campus parking, she said, students still will gravitate toward San Ramon if space is available.
At a meeting last week with city officials, Wood agreed to correct certain permit violations--the most serious of them involving student use of a road adjacent to some homes. Traffic will be reduced by rerouting internal parking access, he said. The college also will support permit parking for the residents and will wage a "strong campaign" to educate students about being good neighbors.
The college president said he already had decided to put a 650-student cap on enrollment. "The college has reached the size it should be," he said.
"There are no bad guys in this," said Councilman Robert Ryan. "This thing just got going and I'm confident that when we sit down, we can address the concerns."
He said Marymount has recognized that it must become "more pro-active" in solving the problems.
Saying that most people in the area regard Marymount as a good neighbor, Wood described the college critics as "a few militants who will continue to complain no matter what we do. They'd prefer that we go away."
He disputed assertions that "hundreds" of cars from the college park on San Ramon and other streets. He said 75 to 100 is a better estimate, adding that the college has used everything from "pleading to threats" to persuade students not to park on the streets.
Marymount estimates that up to 300 employee and student cars come to the campus daily. It now has 168 on-campus parking spaces.
A key issue in the dispute is whether Wood made commitments about the eventual size of the college during a 1975 hearing before the city Planning Advisory Committee, which granted Marymount the permit to operate.
At that time, residents raised questions about such things as projected enrollment, hours of operation, the nature of weekend activities. They suggested a restriction on enrollment to prevent a "change in density."
Wood responded by saying that enrollment would be between 250 and 275 students, parking would be contained to the campus, there might be some evening seminars but weekend activities would be minimal.