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UCLA Buys Land in Westchester for 90 Faculty Homes

July 20, 1989|SPENCER S. HSU | Times Staff Writer

UCLA has bought a controversial, 57-acre site on the Westchester Bluffs for $15.25 million to build subsidized faculty housing.

The 90-home development will be UCLA's fourth and largest housing project. . Since 1986, in an effort to help its faculty members cope with the fierce housing prices in Los Angeles, the university has built two condominium projects in Westwood totaling 52 units, and a 58-unit townhouse complex in Beverly Glen, just north of campus.

The Westchester site, located on the hills between Loyola Marymount University and the San Diego Freeway, has been the subject of dispute since 1986, when Howard Hughes Realty Inc. first sought city permission to build 205 homes on two separate tracts along the bluffs.

Rejected as Too Big

In February, 1988, the Los Angeles Planning Commission, responding to opposition from the neighborhood and from Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, rejected the proposal as too big.

Galanter and area residents then began negotiations with Hughes to provide more open space and reduce the number of houses. A scaled-down proposal for 142 houses was approved by the Planning Commission in March.

Hughes Realty still intends to develop the second parcel.

A spokeswoman for the Westchester community group that has fought development on the bluffs said the change in ownership did not alter the group's opposition.

"It really doesn't make any difference whether UCLA builds it or (another developer) builds it, it's really the same problem," said Marilyn Cole, a member of the Committee to Preserve Open Space.

The committee, which lost an appeal of the commission's decision to the City Council in May, is now threatening legal action and contesting the city's environmental impact report on the development proposals. "Not anything is going to be able to be built there until the city comes out with the correct" environmental report, Cole said.

Wildlife Jeopardized

Cole said construction will jeopardize the hillside's stability and wildlife.

Galanter's office said, however, that UCLA has agreed to all the conditions set in Hughes' earlier agreement. "The sale to UCLA will conform to all conditions in the agreement, including open space and preservation of the bluff face," Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz said.

UCLA's development will occupy 18.7 acres of the 57.2-acre tract, with the remainder to be preserved as open space. UCLA bought the parcel earlier this month from a subsidiary of Watt Industries, which bought the land from Hughes late last year.

University officials say the purchase is part of a long-term plan to bolster faculty recruitment and retention. The development is UCLA's first project to include single-family homes.

"Housing is a critical element in many of our recruitment cases when it comes down to campus visits," said Carol Hartzog, vice provost of UCLA's College of Letters and Sciences, which employs more than 750 tenured faculty.

Hartzog said Los Angeles' high housing prices make it difficult for the university to recruit top faculty. The demand for professors is expected to soar in the next decade, when one-fourth of UCLA faculty will reach retirement age. The aging trend is sweeping through all the nation's leading universities.

UCLA estimates that it will sell the Westchester homes, ranging in size from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, at a discount, because of the cheaper borrowing, construction and marketing costs available to the university, said Michael Hansen, UCLA's director of real estate.

With expected construction costs of about $45 million, Hansen said he expects the 90 homes to sell for about $500,000 in 1991 when they are completed. That is about $200,000 to $300,000 below what they would probably sell for on the open market.

Faculty will be selected on the basis of academic merit, Hartzog said.

The university also maintains a limited mortgage assistance program for faculty at below-market interest rates--a variable rate that is now 7.9%, said Susan K. Abeles, UCLA's director of business planning and operation.

Although details of the subsidies still need to be worked out, faculty members who purchase at a discount will sign contracts agreeing to sell their homes at below market cost--probably either back to UCLA or to a buyer approved by the university. Through a formula still to be determined, Hansen said, the buyers will be able to share in some of the equity the property is likely to build.

"What was lacking, what the faculty wanted and UCLA was not able to provide for itself was for-sale housing," said university spokesman Carole Magnuson. "The demand was not for rental housing."

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