Critics file suit to block UCLA hotel
Critics of UCLA’s controversial plan to build a conference center and 250-room hotel on the Westwood campus filed a lawsuit Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court to block the proposal.
The $162-million project, to be built on the site of a garage south of the Bruin statue, was unanimously endorsed by the UC Board of Regents in July despite the opposition of area residents and hoteliers.
The lawsuit, filed by Save Westwood Village, a neighborhood nonprofit organization, cites possible adverse impacts from UCLA’s contention that the center would not be a true commercial entity so guests would not pay occupancy taxes.
Those taxes, the lawsuit argues, go to funding city services including emergency fire and police services -- which the lawsuit claims are already overloaded in the area.
The lawsuit also contends that UCLA did not fully pursue an objective analysis of alternatives to the project and that it violates zoning laws.
Laura Lake, co-president of the Save Westwood group, said the university would have an unfair advantage over area hotels because it would not pay taxes on the rooms.
“It is sad to see UCLA turn its back on Westwood village and go into direct competition with local hotels and businesses,” she said.
The plan was temporarily withdrawn in March after some UC officials raised concerns about finances and the effect on private Westside hotels. University officials later said they looked at other options, including buying an existing off-campus hotel, but found none with sufficient meeting rooms.
In a statement, the group said that UC is a public trust and that the regents must exercise due diligence. “The Regents failed to uphold their duty by accepting inaccurate and nonsensical responses to their tough questions and backing down from their demand for less costly alternatives,” the statement said.
After its approval, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said the center would allow visitors to more fully and conveniently experience campus life.
He said the center "is vital to UCLA, has a solid business plan and is the best alternative to meet UCLA's goals."
Regents have said they were convinced that revenues from room rentals and dining would support payments on the $112 million in bond financing they approved.
The center also received a $50-million gift -- $40 million for construction and $10 million for a programming endowment -- from UCLA alumnus Meyer Luskin and his wife, Renee, the couple after whom it will be named. UCLA officials emphasized that the Luskin donation could not be used for an off-campus facility. The lawsuit names the UC regents as well as the Luskins.
Barring any delays, construction is expected to start next summer, with completion set for mid-2016.
UC officials had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.
[Updated at 7:20 p.m., Oct. 12, 2012: UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea said in an email that the center would help accommodate academic conferences and would fill a long-time need for additional guest rooms on campus. The center would not compete with local private hotels for tourists and other business travelers because guests would need to be affiliated with an event hosted at the university in order to book a room, he said.]
-- Stephen Ceasar
Photo: Artist's rendering of UCLA's plan for a conference center and 250-room hotel at the heart of campus.