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PLUM Committee to review USC environmental plan

Cynthia E. Griffin | 9/19/2012, 5 p.m.

Compared to other major universities around the nation, USC puts up a significantly smaller percentage of its students in housing owned by the school.

That is among the findings presented Tuesday at a hearing of the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM), and is also some of the detail the body will need to wade through before voting on a plan by the school to revitalize the University Village retail complex through a project called The Village at USC.

The project is expected to create an estimated 8,900 new jobs as part of a total of 12,000 jobs (8,000 permanent and 4,000 construction-related) to be added through the USC Specific Plan.

It will also provide up to 350,000 square feet of retail serving both the USC campus and the community, including at least one grocery store, several sit-down restaurants, a food court, shops and services.

A hotel is also planned for the space, and hundreds of private housing units currently occupied by students will be returned to the area's housing pool.

The PLUM Committee will meet again Oct. 9 to review the new information, receive public comments and get an update on the project's California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) report. This environmental impact report must be completed and presented publicly before the project can move forward.

At the next meeting, the committee is also expected to hear an update on the negotiations between USC and local labor unions about a project labor agreement that will determine what percentage of the jobs created will go to local residents, what type of job-training program will be established in conjunction with the redevelopment; and what assistance will be provided to small business owners within the project development area.

Finally, the next meeting will also address what kind of public benefits should be negotiated into the development agreement the city signs with USC, and the question of how this project will impact the availability of affordable housing in the area will also be examined.

Community activists have continually stated their concern that USC's plan does not include enough affordable housing to relieve the pressure of students and local residents battling for the same places to live around the campus.

At its last meeting, PLUM Committee members asked staff to come back with a report on how other major universities around the nation compared.

According to the planning department staff, USC houses 29.2 percent of its 16,023 undergraduate students in university-owned housing and zero percent of its graduate students.

In comparison, the University of Pennsylvania houses 64 percent of its undergrads in school-owned housing; Columbia houses 95 percent of its 8,000; Harvard houses 97 percent of its 8,000 and the University of Chicago houses 66 percent of its 5,000 undergraduates in university-owned facilities.

In terms of community benefit programs, while none of the development projects were exactly the same, Columbia is most comparable to USC. That university created $100 million in public benefits while USC has proposed $30 million. Harvard signed a cooperative agreement that included $11.8 million in park and street improvements, $4.7 million in educational benefits, $3.9 million in employment and life-long learning work force development.

Of the universities, the USC project is by far the largest, encompassing 207 acres (8.8 million square feet), with 4,200 student beds proposed, compared to 538,000 square feet and 1,200 student/faculty beds for Harvard; and 8.8 million square feet and 500 student beds at the University of Pennsylvania.