By Kevin O'Keeffe
A tense gathering is expected tonight of Westchester neighborhood leaders after a battle between residents and Loyola Marymount University officials came to full boil during the school's undergraduate commencement exercises this month.
On graduation day, students and families streamed toward campus and saw a large group of residents holding signs reading "Shame on you, LMU." Banners on houses along Loyola Boulevard condemned LMU as a "bad neighbor." It was hardly the kind of reception people expected. But is there anything more maddening than parking wars in L.A.? Especially student parking that goes from zero to $670 in record time?
The residents were protesting a steep new $670-a-year fee charged to LMU students to park on campus, instituted last spring. In response, students -- and even staff who feel they can't afford it -- are filling the curbsides along once-quiet residential streets.
Tonight at the Westchester Neighborhood Council's Governmental Affairs Committee meeting, Council President Cyndi Hench is expected to propose sending a letter to LMU asking for them to lower or abandon the fee.
In response, Kathleen Flanagan, vice president of communications and government affairs for LMU, will repeat the university's position -- once again.
LMU officials insist they had to switch from free parking to $670 to pay down a bond that is financing a proposed parking structure.
LMU's new parking fee is lower than the whopping $1,068 per year paid at UCLA in far pricier Westwood. Some students claim they pay enough for LMU already, though.
"I think students pay enough to go here, let alone pay for parking," student Terry Byrne said in an interview with the Los Angeles Loyolan, LMU's student newspaper, in January 2012. (LMU's undergraduate base tuition last year was more than $38,000; tuition will be raised 2.96 percent next academic year.)
The fee almost immediately inspired angry forums and petitions. The university has remained firm, however.
"This was all part of our Master Plan negotiations that started in 2008. It was a three-year process. We sent notices to the neighbors about it, we put all the documents and meetings online," says Flanagan. "It's not something that we hid or kept from the neighbors."
LMU instead suggested "permit parking" for the neighbors, with each household able to buy three permits for $34.
Westchester residents hated the idea.
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One group calling itself the "Taxpayers Association" was reportedly distributing flyers to LMU-related cars parked on Gonzaga Avenue. The flyers stated that "Gonzaga Avenue is Zoned R-1.1.2," and insinuated that the cars could be towed.
Clarence Griffin, LMU's director of community and local government relations, told the Loyolan that there is "no zone in which someone would be able to legally just tow your vehicle for parking in front of their house. That's just not legitimate."
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa Governmental Affairs Committee meets tonight in Del Rey Hills Church at 6:30 p.m.
Follow me at @kokeeffe22.