The South Coast Air Quality Management District has told UCLA that its controversial long-range growth plans would result in significant air pollution that is not adequately addressed in the university's environmental impact report.
In a letter dated May 15, the district questions UCLA's contention that adding more than 4 million square feet of development could reduce traffic rather than add to it, as Westwood residents fear. The letter asks the university for "further clarification of the existing transportation system's ability to accommodate large increases in vehicular traffic."
Intersections on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood are repeatedly named among the city's most crowded.
Even if spread out over 15 years, the UCLA construction would interfere with the district's ability to meet federal air quality standards, said the letter, signed by AQMD Planning Manager Jack Broadbent for Planning Director Barry Wallerstein.
UCLA Environmental Planning Officer Mark Horne said the district staff had "bashed" the university's development plan without understanding it. UCLA proposes to cut traffic with an expanded ride-sharing program and other measures, he said.
Horne said this was the first time in 10 years that the AQMD had made any substantive comment on one of the university's environmental impact reports.
The AQMD is the latest agency to express concern about the ambitious development plan unveiled by UCLA this spring. If all the proposed projects were built, the square footage of campus buildings would increase by one third. The plan includes 2,700 housing units for graduate students and faculty on "Lot 32"--a parking lot between Gayley Avenue and the San Diego Freeway--and a new hospital.
While the AQMD does not have the power to approve or reject the long-range plan, it does have to issue a permit for a related project: a new power plant called a chiller-cogenerator that would produce electricity and steam while chilling water for campus air conditioning.
The primary fuels for the plant would be natural and landfill gas. A 120-foot exhaust stack would be needed to dilute emissions before they are released into the air. The plant would be at the south end of the campus on Westwood Plaza, near the UCLA Medical Center.
UCLA representatives said the new plant will be energy-efficient and cut utility bills. They said the tall smokestack is necessary because of hills and tall buildings nearby.
In Kern County, growers and environmentalists, worried about public health and declining crop yields, asked the state Air Resources Board last year to impose a moratorium on any new power-producing cogeneration plants in the San Joaquin Valley.
At a sparsely attended public hearing on the UCLA power plant proposal Tuesday night, Westwood residents complained that the plant would make possible the growth envisioned in the university's expansion plan.
Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, said the plant would be capable of providing four times the energy consumed by the campus in 1983. She said its construction would also create "a major new stationary source for air pollution" in the middle of the city.
Westwood resident Wolfgang Veith said the city of Los Angeles "would never think of putting a power generator in Westwood. Never."
In its environmental impact report, UCLA conceded that the plant would significantly affect traffic, produce solid waste and waste water, increase water consumption and worsen air quality. But it called those effects "unavoidable."
The AQMD's Broadbent testified briefly at the hearing but said his staff had not completed a study of the proposed power plant's impact.
Because the AQMD's remarks on the long-range development plan were received after the public-comment period for the plan had ended, UCLA does not have to address them in its final environmental impact report. Horne said he is undecided about how to respond to them.
If the UCLA chiller-cogeneration plant wins approval, it will be structured as a joint venture with a private firm, Parsons Municipal Services Inc., which would build and run the plant. Public funds would finance the construction, Horne said.
UCLA has already scrapped one project on its wish list. Under pressure from homeowners and elected officials, UCLA Chancellor Charles Young said last week that he was dropping a plan to put a 300-room conference center at the south end of the campus, which juts down to Wilshire Boulevard.
The conference center was particularly offensive to its opponents, including City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, because it would bring overnight guests to Westwood Village, which is already inundated with people and cars.
Yaroslavsky also called on UCLA to submit its plans for city approval, since they so clearly affect the surrounding community.
As a state agency, UCLA is not subject to local land-use guidelines, but the area's elected officials have persuaded the university to let the city monitor the effects of its development on traffic.