After more than two hours of debate and public testimony, the Glickman Hillel Center for Jewish Life was unanimously approved in City Council chambers downtown on Tuesday, October 3rd. Rabbi David Singer, Executive Director of Hillel at University of San Diego shared his thoughts with us.
"Yesterday, I had the honor of asking the San Diego City Council to approve the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center, a project fought for by countless lay leaders and colleagues over the last twenty years. Here's what I said:
President Cole and Esteemed Councilmembers, my name is Rabbi David Singer, and I have the distinct honor of serving as Executive Director of UC San Diego Hillel, where our mission is to inspire Jewish students to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel gives young people the tools they need to incorporate tradition and ethics into their lives. Hillel is the bridge connecting students with the community, around shared values and visions for a better future. At a time when our country is mired by division and acrimony, Hillel brings diverse groups together in conversation and partnership. Hillel serves a crucial need for La Jolla, for our city and for our young people.
I am a product of Hillel. As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Hillel transformed my life. Hillel was where I learned about religion, where I built community, where I honed my skills as a leader. I am a rabbi because of Hillel.
Two years ago, I moved back to San Diego, my hometown, privileged to work for the very organization that so-impacted my life. I came here then, and I come to you today, with deep determination to give to our students in La Jolla the same resource that I so-benefitted from when I was their age.
Today marks the culmination of a twenty-year dream: the dream of our organization to have a permanent facility in which we can carry out our mission serving the religious needs of young people; the dream of San Diego’s Jewish community, to finally resolve a saga which has stretched on far too long; the dream of hundreds of our neighbors, and in particular, a 102 year old neighbor, my friend, Joseph “Chickie" Glickman, who last year pledged $5 million to help fund this center.
Councilmembers, the issue before you today is solely a question of land use, so let me set the record straight:
You have before you a project that is consistent with the community plan, consistent with the La Jolla Shores PDO, will result in zero significant unmitigated environmental impacts, has the unanimous support of the Planning Commission and will offer immense tangible benefits to both the students we serve and the broader neighborhood and community.
Now, we take seriously our responsibility in protecting the interests of our neighborhood. For this reason, we have worked tirelessly over the last twenty years to meet with our neighbors and listen to the concerns that some have. We have worked diligently to incorporate that feedback into our plans.
This Hillel center will have significantly less capacity than the project approved by this very body in 2006. We have literally sacrificed the potential impact of our organization in our determination to listen to and incorporate the feedback we hear from our neighbors. But this is the right Hillel center, the right project, for our needs, and for our neighborhood’s needs.
Your predecessors approved a nearly-13,000 square foot Hillel building. But we heard concerns that the size of our project was too large. So we have cut the square footage of our facility in half, and broken up the project into three small buildings that reflect the size, scale and character of the neighborhood.
Your predecessors approved a facility that would have fit hundreds of attendees on a regular basis. But we heard concerns about the number of people coming in and out of Hillel. So we have agreed to, as a permit condition, a regular occupancy limit of 100 persons.
We have heard concerns about parking, and we have committed to ensuring that we create zero negative impacts. So while our studies confirm - as recently as this spring - that only 13% of our students bring a car to campus, we have designed a facility with twenty seven parking spaces. UCLA Hillel - a building four times larger than what we propose to build, serving thousands more students in a similar neighborhood to La Jolla Shores Heights - has half the amount of parking spaces as will we.
That’s not all. We have designed the project so that no entrances face residential streets, so that all traffic - pedestrian and vehicular - comes from La Jolla Village Drive and La Jolla Scenic Way. We have offered limited hours of operation. And do not forget, we will build, and maintain, at our organization’s expense, 10,000 square feet of public park-like space, at the gateway to La Jolla. That is a commitment we made to this council almost fifteen years ago, which we continue to uphold.
Now, we have offered many concessions, changes to plans already approved by this council ten years ago, on our own accord in hopes of finding compromise and commonality with our opponents. We spent seven years preparing an Environmental Impact Report - some 1,100 pages of thorough environmental studies and responses to comments - that conclusively show that our project will result in zero negative impacts. For many, our flexibility has won over hearts - we now count some 181 immediate neighbors who support our plans.
But not everyone. Councilmembers, you have heard the assertion from our opponents that we do not fit the zoning requirements of this property. That despite the fact that we are a registered religious nonprofit organization, led by a rabbi, ours is not a religious center, that we are excluded from the parcel’s zoning because our constituents are students. This is an outrageous assertion, which we should all reject. You cannot discriminate against a religious organization just because you do not like the make up of the population it serves. We all know better.
The zoning for our property allows for buildings used for primarily religious purposes. Period. That is what we are proposing, and that is what, with your approval, we will build.
And we will continue, every day, to be good neighbors, to seek compromise, to give back to this community. Over the last six months even, I have personally reached out to every neighbor who has recently expressed concerns about our project and asked for them to meet, so that we could hear each other and find commonality.
I am grateful for the handful - some of whom are in this room today - who accepted my invitation. I learned from our conversations that while we don’t agree on everything, we do agree on many core issues: all of us want to prevent the currently bad parking situation from being worsened; all of us want to ensure the safety and security of everyone, residents and students alike; all of us love this neighborhood.
This is an exciting day. I’ve stood before this body before, in 2003 as the then student president of Berkeley Hillel, eager to support my hometown, my neighborhood, as we embarked on this project to give Hillel a home and to improve the gateway to La Jolla, fifteen years ago.
Let us ensure that it does not take one day more to achieve this dream.
Esteemed council members: This afternoon represents for us the historic culmination of our twenty-year dream.
Now is the time to let Hillel build.
We take great pride in the thousands of supporters of our cause, hundreds of whom live right within this very neighborhood. They have written letters, made phone calls, and sent in hundreds of postcards of support. I hold in my hand the names of 181 immediate neighbors of our property who unequivocally support this project. Many of them have taken the time to be here today, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
We are greatly appreciative of the vast support Hillel enjoys throughout San Diego; we feel pride in the alumni of our program, successful leaders in San Diego and beyond who trace so much of the impact they have in the world back to the impact Hillel had on them; we are overjoyed to have here current students, who could very well be enjoying the first days of a new academic quarter on campus, but instead they are here, because they support Hillel.
I hope that you will too.
Let me say this once more: You have before you a project that is consistent with the community plan, consistent with the La Jolla Shores PDO, will result in zero significant unmitigated environmental impacts, has the unanimous support of the Planning Commission and will offer immense tangible benefits to both the students we serve and the broader neighborhood and community.
We are immensely proud of this project, and respectfully ask that you vote today to approve the Beverly and Joseph Glickman Hillel Center. Thank you."
Thank you, Rabbi Singer, and congratulations to all on this monumental win.