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University's neighbors complain about student parking

Loyola Marymount seeks to address concerns. Residents are happy about plans for more spaces on campus but not that there will be a charge for them.

November 25, 2012|By Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times
(Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

On a recent stroll in her Westchester neighborhood, Leslie Rittenour watched a dusty white Cherokee with Washington plates wedge its way into a small parking spot on the street in front of her home.

Like the two cars it squeezed between — a gray Prius and a beat-up Honda — it had a Loyola Marymount University decal on its windshield.

Rittenour pursed her lips as she walked past the cars.

"They say it's a public street," Rittenour said, scoffingly. "If every day it's like this, it's really just an LMU parking lot."

For Rittenour and others whose homes border the edge of the university campus, competing with students for parking leads to frequent frustrations — ones they fear will get worse when the school starts charging for on-campus parking in January.

Local residents have had to get creative to find solutions. One woman put out a row of trash cans strung together with red ribbon to save spots for a dinner party. Others put bricks in the road.

Several neighbors gathered with a panel of LMU employees at the Westchester Senior Center on a recent evening to discuss some of the issues causing tension between the school and the neighborhood. The biggies: loud parties and street parking.

Clarence Griffin, director of LMU's community and government relations, nodded and jotted notes as neighbors made complaints. Though the university is bound by its 20-year master plan, officials are open to ideas from the community.

During the meeting, for example, one resident suggested that the school block off some entrances so students can't get to campus as quickly from the neighborhood. She asked Griffin if he would pass along her idea. He nodded. "I think that's definitely something that would be worthy of conversation," he said.

The school's master plan — a slew of modernization and renovation projects approved unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council in February 2011 — didn't increase the campus-enrollment cap of 7,800 students or its acreage. It did, however, approve more on-campus parking.

Neighbors welcome the prospect of added parking spots, but not the plan to charge for them. Students will pay $670 a year; staff, $696.

The school hopes the fees will add an incentive for the students, faculty and staff who live nearby to walk, ride a bike or take public transportation. LMU plans to expand its shuttle options and create a carpool website, which will help people find other commuters within their ZIP code.

Rio Gomez, a 21-year-old liberal studies junior who lives a 10-minute drive from campus, said that once LMU starts charging he'll probably do the same thing he does now: park off campus.

On a recent afternoon, he parked just south of campus along Loyola Boulevard and rushed to the library to print a paper for his educational psychology class.

His habit of parking on nearby streets started after one too many mornings of waiting in a long line of cars looking for campus parking.

"I'm a procrastinator," Gomez said through a smile. "I'm usually late to class, so I rush, park in a residential area and go to class."

One possible solution for keeping students off the streets is to create a permit-parking district.

Residents could get up to three annual passes for $34 each, two $22.50 visitor passes that would last four months and day passes that cost $2.50.

LMU officials are taking no position on the permit parking. If the neighbors want it, though, the school's master plan set aside $24,000 a year to help pay for residents' parking permits.

Linda Kokelaar, who lives just east of campus, vehemently opposes permit parking because she doubts the school's subsidy will cover everyone's fees.

"Why should we have that burden?" Kokelaar said. "That's not fair."

Kokelaar started a petition — "Permit Parking is NOT the Solution" — and enlisted the help of her 93-year-old neighbor Mary Rennells.

Rennells and her late husband moved into the Westchester neighborhood east of campus in 1949 and she doesn't like to see it change. So this summer, she canvassed the streets and collected signatures.

"I walked, and it's not easy to walk," Rennells said. "But I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everyone signed. I quit counting after 100."

On a recent afternoon, as she picked tulips from her small garden, a black Volvo zoomed up. A baby-faced boy clutching a stack of books hopped out. He is one of the crew of LMU students who live next door.

He saw Rennells and a smile spread across his face. He waved and said hi.

Rennells' eyes lit up and she waved back.

"They're really, really high-class boys," Rennells said. "They're really sweet to me."

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