What happened to our Parking Structure?

Mt.SAC+student+parking+lot+on+Tuesday%2C+Mar.+13+Photo+Credit%3A+Hernandez+Coke%2FSac.Media

Mt.SAC student parking lot on Tuesday, Mar. 13 Photo Credit: Hernandez Coke/Sac.Media

Update: April 11, 5:15 p.m. 

With the settlement of the Stadium project on April 12, the Parking Structure project was left to be re-evaluated. According to a press release, the multi-level parking structure was removed from the Mt. SAC Master Plan. The parking structure was originally filed by the City of Walnut against the college. The lawsuit by the city claimed the project did not fall under the school bond measures, but now the project can be reconsidered. Stay tuned for further updates.

If there is one thing every Mt. SAC student has experienced, it is the parking horrors on campus. Every semester, Twitter is flooded with tweets and horror stories about the parking situation at Mt. SAC. The college: well aware of the problem.

To ease congestion, plans were made to build a five-level parking structure providing 2,085 student parking spaces and 128 faculty parking spots to satisfy the demand until at least 2025. This $48 million project was set to be completed by this year, but where is it?

In 2015, Mt SAC had plans to build the parking structure where Lot A is currently located, in the northwestern part of the campus above the hill. While the school had everything set out to begin construction during the Fall of 2015, plans were put to a screeching halt when the City of Walnut and the United Walnut Taxpayers filed a lawsuit against the campus to stop any further advancement on the project. A press release put out by UWT on March 17, 2016 claimed the college knowingly defied proper city protocol for construction and accused the college of illegally trying to spend Measure RR school bond funds.

According to the lawsuit, “The court found that Plaintiff United Walnut was likely to prevail on its third and fourth causes of action alleging violation of the City’s zoning ordinance. A parking structure is a non-classroom facility that cannot be exempted from the City’s zoning laws. As a separate ground, the court also found that Plaintiff was likely to succeed on its first cause of action alleging that the parking structure was not sufficiently identified in Measure RR when presented to voters. Defendants were enjoined from performing or conducting any further construction or dirt removal activity on the proposed parking structure site, or from spending any Measure RR funds on any aspect of the Parking Project.”

In other words, yes, the judge ruled that a parking structure does not fall under Measure RR “classroom repairs,” but in Mt. SAC’s defense, the Measure does mention “intersections and parking capacity to improve traffic flow and prevent traffic congestion.” The thing is that, depending on the judge, it may be interpreted differently, because the ruling did say that the structure “was not sufficiently identified.” But because the college did not follow the city zoning ordinance and didn’t have the proper environmental impact reports, the ball went to UWT court.

The court’s final ruling was, “Because the claim is moot, United Walnut is not entitled to mandamus under CEQA ordering the District to rescind and set aside its Parking Approvals and requiring the District to consider the environmental consequences of the Parking Garage Project in the manner required by law. United Walnut also is not entitled to a declaration under the City’s zoning and development ordinances.”

Commenting on the lawsuit, Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins said, “The college had in its Educational Facilities Master Plan of 2007, the construction of a parking structure on Lot A. As we were approaching the beginning of that project, we had opposition from the neighbors who live in Timberline just to the north of us. And so there were two lawsuits filed, one by the City of Walnut and one by the residents of Timberline.”

“The College had already preceded through all of its environmental impacts, and the City actually signed off on all of that work,” Scroggins said. “It was approved by the Division of the State Architect. The beginning work on the site had started. What happened was that the UWT, the group that formed, had several causes of action about that particular project.”

Among those cause of actions were that the college violated City zoning ordinance, California Environment Quality Act CEQA, and misappropriating bond funds.

In the same press release, the president of the United Walnut Taxpayer, Layla Abou-Taleb, commented on the way the college responded to the needs of the community. “Ultimate responsibility for the actions of Mt. SAC rest with the Board of Trustees,” Abou-Taleb said, “In many cases the Mt. SAC Board never approved or requested ‘initial studies’ or the required ‘alternate studies’ a requirement of CEQA […] Scroggins takes ultimate direction from the Board, which voted to approve the legally challenged projects despite repeated pleas by UWT to follow the CEQA requirements.”

The lawsuit goes beyond just the college following protocol; it also includes the residents’ annoyance with the growth of the largest community college in Southern California. On their website savewalnut.org, United Walnut Taxpayers started campaigns to attempt to stop the college from essentially “growing.” They have a tab on their website that states, “The Threats” and the first one mentioned is “Mt. SAC’s Growth” making the statement that, “Mt. SAC’s growth is no longer sustainable unless the residents of Walnut agree to further sacrifice their quality of life for future years of more traffic congestion, air pollution and higher crime.”

On the bright side, it’s not a 2,000-space parking structure, but the City of Walnut has approved Mt. SAC’s request to build a temporary parking lot with 300 more spaces under the terms that the college submits an application to the Planning Commission and files an environmental impact report. The City’s letter of approval was sent out for July 19, 2017. In a different letter sent out by the City of Walnut on March 14, the seems to have approved four parking structures in a letter sent to MtSAC in regards to the college’s Educational and Facility Master Plan. The date construction will begin is still unknown.

TIMELINE

TBA Construciton of 300 spaced parking lot

July, 19, 2017 City of Walnut Letter of Approval

March 14, 2017 Judge ruling, “The Parking Garage Project is moot and United Walnut’s claims concerning it are denied.”

March 24, 2015 OWT filed the lawsuit

February 11, 2015 Board of Trustees approves Parking Project

November 4, 2008 Measure RR is passed