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Lawsuit seeks to block UCLA hotel, contending it should pay taxes

April 04, 2013|By Larry Gordon
  • An artist's rendering of the conference center and 250-room hotel planned for the heart of the UCLA campus.
An artist's rendering of the conference center and 250-room hotel… (UCLA )

Opponents of UCLA’s proposed conference center and 250-room hotel on campus have filed a lawsuit that challenges the project’s tax exemptions and contends it would not be financially viable if it had to pay all the federal and local taxes that nearby commercial hotels do.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court late Wednesday by the Save Westwood Village organization and others, claims that existing UCLA guest houses and campus visitor centers already violate laws by not charging overnight guests occupancy taxes and that those facilities have an unfair advantage over hotels in the area.

The lawsuit seeks to have the University of California regents reverse their September approval of the $162-million campus hotel and center, which is slated to start construction this summer and be completed in 2016 on the site of what is now a parking garage at the center of the Westwood campus. The suit contends that the project will waste public funds and contains “a hidden and improper subsidy” by avoiding tax payments and being partly financed through tax-exempt bonds.

UCLA insists it carefully reviewed and stands by the hotel project, which is called the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center, after the donors who pledged $50 million to it. In a statement released Thursday, the university said the proposed hotel and other guest houses lawfully can avoid charging occupancy and some other taxes because all those facilities’ visitors are there for educational reasons, whether attending an academic conference or touring the campus.

“UCLA remains confident that all of our facilities are in full compliance with all local, state and federal laws and we fully expect to prevail,” the statement said.

In October, critics of the plan previously filed a separate lawsuit that challenged its environmental and zoning review.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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