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Panel Approves Soka Campus Expansion Plan

Development: Action allows university to increase enrollment from 300 to 650 at Santa Monica Mountains site.


Moving quickly on an issue that has dragged on for nearly six years, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday approved plans to allow Soka University to expand its campus in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors could make a final decision as early as Nov. 14, officials said.

"We're very pleased that the Planning Commission concluded that the environmental impacts were minimal," said Jeff Ourvan, vice president of university relations for Soka University of America. "My overwhelming emotion is relief."

The quick process is due in part to an agreement between Soka University of America, the county and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy reached earlier this year that settled competing lawsuits.

Under a settlement brokered by Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Soka agreed to seek a smaller campus while the county agreed to expedite the university's request for expansion.

Opponents of the expansion said they have been resigned to the fact they lost the fight since the day they were informed of the suits' settlement.

"The agreement had been made by the Conservancy and the others involved, so I'm not surprised the commission approved it," said Jill Swift, a Sierra Club member. "I didn't stay for the meeting because I knew it was going to happen."

Said Magor Feuer, a member of the environmentalist group Save Open Space: "It's a crusher."

The expansion plan would increase the size of the university's enrollment from its current 300 to 650.

The campus would occupy about 207 acres of the 589-acre site, and 440,000 square feet of campus buildings would be allowed.

To address traffic concerns in the area, 500 of the students would be required to live on campus.

Soka is barred from requesting any expansion for 25 years, and then must go through the regular county approval process.

In 1991, the school had proposed a much larger campus, including an enrollment of 3,400.

In recent years, hundreds of neighborhood residents and environmentalists attended hearings denouncing Soka's expansion plans, but during the public hearing process that started earlier this month before the Planning Commission, only about 15 people spoke against the downsized plan.

Many of the opponents criticized the "urbanization" the campus would bring to the rural area.

In an attempt to mollify that concern, the commission--on a motion by Commissioner Richard C. Wulliger--increased the project's open space by 30 acres to about 412 acres and reduced the area the university can later build on from 169 to 135 acres.

Also, the commission mandated that all buildings and fencing be earth-toned, that the campus use subdued lighting and that any amplification equipment be used on a temporary basis only.

The first phase of the three-part project would be completed by 2001, while the final phase would be finished in 2011.

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