Downey Rejects Bid by College to Raise Enrollment

Times Staff Writer

The City Council this week killed a yearlong bid by the Hollywood-based United College of Business to increase enrollment at its main Downey facility by 200 students.

The council unanimously denied the college's request to raise student enrollment from 250 to 450 at its facility at 8345 Firestone Boulevard after City Planner Ronald M. Yoshiki complained that the college had failed to provide adequate enrollment figures since late summer.

The business college first applied for permission to raise student enrollment last year, but its request has now been denied twice. College officials, outraged at the decision, have charged the city with discriminating against the school, which enrolls a high percentage of minority students.

In a staff recommendation submitted to the council Tuesday night, Yoshiki wrote that "no firm conclusions can be made as to the actual enrollment at the college because of the lack of information." In fact, Yoshiki wrote, documentation provided by the college indicates that enrollment exceeds current limits by 91 students.

Would Deny Expansion

Therefore, Yoshiki concluded, "it is recommended that the City Council . . . uphold the decision of the Planning Commission and deny" the college's expansion plan.

"They have not lived up to their initial agreement, Yoshiki said this week.

Yoshiki requested the enrollment figures because of concerns that students attending the one-year business school were parking in spaces reserved for customers of surrounding businesses, causing traffic congestion. Adding more students would increase traffic problems in the busy downtown commercial district, city officials argued.

The council directed the city attorney's office to draft a resolution formalizing its decision. The council is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its next meeting on Oct. 25. The college will continue to press its enrollment expansion plan in court through two discrimination suits that were filed against the city last fall, college President Alan D. Mentzer said.

'Let a Court Decide'

"We've exhausted our administrative effort," Mentzer said in a telephone interview this week. "We'll now let a court decide." He denied that the college is exceeding current enrollment limits.

The lawsuits charge that the city has repeatedly turned down the college's expansion plan because of fears that enrollment of additional "low-income, minority students would discourage higher-income white customers from patronizing nearby businesses."

The suits, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and in U.S. District Court, ask for $7 million in damages and a court order to permit the expansion. Action on the suits was suspended while college and city officials sought a compromise, Mentzer said. "But we're going ahead with them," he said.

City officials have denied the discrimination charge.

"That's the craziest thing I ever heard," Mayor Robert G. Cormack said in a telephone interview. "If (Mentzer) thinks I discriminate, he should come see my place of business," added Cormack, who owns a Santa Fe Springs manufacturing firm that employs a large number of minorities.

The college operates teaching facilities in Downey, Hollywood, Pasadena and Pico Rivera. Students attend day and evening courses in bookkeeping and word processing and in secretarial and other business-related skills. Latinos and blacks constitute 64% of the enrollment.

The college's two Downey facilities are on Firestone Boulevard. The main facility is on the second and third floors of a building it shares with the Downey National Bank. The college initially sought permission to raise its 250-student ceiling to 500 students early last year.

But the council denied that request. College officials resubmitted its expansion application in July after it pared down the number of students and signed an agreement to share a parking lot with a local church, Mentzer said.

The city has twice postponed hearings scheduled in August and September. Mentzer has accused the city of wasting college officials' time and money with the unexpected delays. The college, Mentzer said, has "jumped through hoops" to comply with the city's demands.

Yoshiki said the council's decision was also based on complaints by local businessmen who have urged the council to deny the expansion proposal.

At a recent council meeting, Richard Holmes, the president of Downey National Bank, which is in same office building as the college, complained of loitering and minor vandalism.

Mentzer acknowledged that there may be some loitering but said the college's students generally were well-behaved.

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