UCLA's continuing need for affordable housing on the Westside for faculty members may collide with residents' fears of overdevelopment in the canyon area north of Beverly Hills.
Sam J. Morabito, administrator of the university's business enterprises division, confirmed this week that UCLA is investigating the possibility of acquiring property near Franklin Canyon Reservoir to construct approximately 250 condominiums.
The number of housing units would more than triple the existing limit of 80 approved at the 320-acre site three years ago by the city after a decade-long battle between various developers and canyon residents.
"But let me emphasize before anyone gets excited," Morabito said, "that this is a very, very, very preliminary investigation. We do not want anyone to get the impression that the plans are in concrete. We want to talk to the community first to find out what they want."
A meeting for that purpose will be held in June, Morabito said.
Homeowners involved in previous fights over the site--situated south of Mulholland Drive, east of San Ysidro Drive and west of Coldwater Canyon Boulevard--expressed unhappiness with UCLA plans.
Barbara Blinderman, a canyon resident and lawyer who was a leader of the drive to place the 80-home limitation on the site, predicted a fight over any attempt to lift it.
"It would be fair to say that there will be a major fight if there is an attempt to violate the agreement we fought so long and hard to reach with the city," Blinderman said. "We thought the agreement was final. Certainly, UCLA officials would have to come up with an awfully good reason why they cannot abide by the agreement."
The site, once known as the Teamsters Tract, has been the focus of controversy since three men, one a former building and safety commissioner, were indicted and either pleaded guilty or were convicted in 1968 on bribery and kickback charges involving the development.
The current owners have no ties to the Teamster-financed development.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area, said he was informed of UCLA's interest in the site by the developer, Beverly Parks Estates, and has told UCLA Chancellor Charles Young that the university will have to satisfy members of the community to get the project off the ground.
Yaroslavsky said that he is concerned that UCLA, because the university is a state agency, does not have to abide by local zoning laws, but added that Young assured him the university is not seeking to take any action that will be at odds with local policy.
"We would be very concerned if the state did something that the city does not want done," Yaroslavsky said. "This project has a very seedy history, not now but in the past, and residents are properly concerned about anything that would increase traffic in the area. My impression is that the community is in the driver's seat on this project. Their objections will have to be satisfied."
Morabito said that while the university "typically" is not bound by local zoning ordinances, UCLA policy is to be in harmony with local jurisdictions. He referred to a similar UCLA project in Beverly Glen, 58 town houses that will be constructed shortly and will sell for between $155,000 and $220,000. The market price for such units probably would be at least $350,000, according to Morabito. "We were able to reach agreement on the project with homeowner groups in the area without any controversy," he said.
The housing is needed, Morabito said, because the high price of Westside housing is a deterrent to attracting high-quality faculty to UCLA. "We are at a severe disadvantage in attracting the kind of faculty we want when housing costs at the University of Michigan and Harvard University, among others, are considered," he said. "Since 1978, we have been trying to provide suitable housing for our faculty."
In financing construction of housing, Morabito said UCLA takes out the loan, which is repaid by faculty members at cost. While faculty members own the units, the university places restrictions on speculation and requires owners to sell to other qualified faculty members.
UCLA would have enough housing to meet its needs for the next six or seven years if the university is able to build the 250 units in the canyon, Morabito said.