Arguing that it's not in the University of California's mission to operate hotels, local nonprofit Save Westwood Village has filed a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California, hoping to overturn previous approval of a UCLA conference center project.
The lawsuit filed last week alleges the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center, which would include 250 guest rooms, "is completely inconsistent with the core mission of the University of California."
"This is the only option left," said Laura Lake, co-president of Save Westwood Village. "We believe the impacts on public safety, on the business climate in Westwood, (and on) the city treasury all combine to make it necessary to challenge UCLA. It's not the University of Hyatt, it’s the University of California."
The seven-story building with 25,000 square feet of meeting space is expected to break ground next summer and be completed by 2016. Part of a $100 million gift from alumni Meyer and Renee Luskin will be used to finance the project, in addition to bond financing.
The lawsuit challenges the Board of Regents' previous approval of the conference and guest center's final design plans and environmental impact report (EIR). It calls on the Regents to rescind approval given in September.
"We’d like to reopen the approval and have (the Board of Regents) look at sensible alternatives," Lake said. "We want a dialogue."
UCLA cited the Board of Regents "thorough review" of the project EIR, financing and design.
"While UCLA needs time to review the complaint, we are confident that the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that we prepared for the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center project is fully compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and all applicable laws and requirements, including public input," the university said in a statement.
The lawsuit alleges the conference and guest center is required to charge local transient occupancy and tourism taxes, from which UC officials have said the university is exempt.
"The hotel tax has a profound impact on the environment by funding vital city services, including emergency fire and police service," Lake said in an email.
The lawsuit claims environmental report documents did not take into account the inadequacy of fire protection services in Westwood, which would be "exacerbated" by the conference center project.
"With the addition of the Luskin hotel to existing campus hotels, UCLA deprives the city of millions of dollars needed for our firefighters and other critical city services," Lake said in the email.
It also alleges not enough time was spent looking into site alternatives. The $152 million center is currently planned to be built on what is now the location of Parking Structure 6.
The university addressed some local hotels' concerns that the UCLA conference center would have an unfair advantage in the Westwood market
"The center would not compete with local hotels for tourists and other business travelers, as guests must have an appropriate affiliation with the university in order to book a room, similar to existing policies at the UCLA Guest House and Tiverton House," the university said in a statement.
The UCLA statement also criticized Save Westwood Village's decision to name the Luskins as parties in the case.
"It is a shame that individuals who acted out of such enormous generosity and dedication to UCLA are now being needlessly dragged into this ill-conceived litigation," it said.
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