Admin Bills Palo Verde After Profs Complain

Standing on the corner of Anteater Drive and Palo Verde, facing University Hills, Director of Palo Verde Housing Gerald D. Parham finds it difficult to tell which houses, if any, would be hit by the headlights of a car waiting at this spot.
The intersection in question is a construction site dubbed the ‘The Professor Home Improvement Project,’ by Susan Kaasa, fourth- year psychology and social behavior graduate student, and Elizabeth Chiarello, third-year sociology graduate student. Kaasa is a member of the Academic Senate Committee on Graduate Student Housing and Chiarello is a member of the Palo Verde Residents’ Council. Both are opposed to the construction already underway.
Currently an entrance into Palo Verde, the intersection was initially going to be both an entrance and an exit, allowing traffic in and out of Palo Verde from Anteater Drive from all directions.
Earlier this year, the original plan for the intersection was altered by Vice Chancellor for Administrative and Business Services Wendell Brase to disallow left turns coming out of the graduate housing community. The alteration will cost $130,000 with a five percent interest rate over 30 years. This sum will cover the cost of extending a median and planting trees. After student protests, the administration has agreed to cover $75,000 of the cost.
The decision to alter the intersection was influenced by the complaints of three faculty members in University Hills last October that headlights hit their homes as drivers approached the exit. Palo Verde residents believe it to be unfair that some of the funds for this construction were deducted from the Palo Verde community, especially because UC Irvine’s administration dismissed the less costly alternatives that the Palo Verde Residents’ Council proposed.
‘We wanted the faculty members to be paying for it,’ Kaasa said. ‘Anyone but us because it doesn’t benefit us.’
‘Essentially, they decided to change the traffic patterns in a community of 1,200 people to accommodate three faculty members,’ Chiarello said.
As a result of the graduate students’ negative reaction, part of the funding for the project was provided by the UCI administration.
However, the safety of the Palo Verde community remains in question among residents.
Since the intersection will only allow a right exit, all vehicles exiting to the left will be directed through the community’s parking lots.
Therefore, the parking lots will be essentially transformed into streets, which community residents say poses a threat to a nearby playground.
To Chiarello, this is especially ridiculous because, ‘the honest truth is, there is no empirical evidence that the headlights hit at all. … I talked to probably six people who were actually at the light test and they told me six different things.’
Parham’s car was used in a headlight impact test. He explained that the bottom of the exit, which is at a slight incline, is the only point from which the headlights would hit the houses and even then, cars are too far away to impact the houses greatly. After cars levels off into the intersection, lights only hit the base below the house.
Parham pointed out the three houses in question. One house, directly across from the intersection, had windows and, though it was covered in trees, may be impacted by lights. The house to the left had windows that were not hit by the windows during the test and the house to the right had no windows facing the street at all.
Unless all three faculty members lived in the same house, according to Parham, there should not be more than one faculty complaint.
‘They’re making a decision based on really, really shaky evidence,’ Chiarello said.
In response to the complaints, the Palo Verde Residents’ Council presented alternatives, including buying blackout drapes for the houses or planting shrubbery and trees to block out the light. Both were dismissed by administrators, according to students.
‘Either of those is a better solution and less expensive than the $130,000 option, and the $130,000 option effectively doesn’t do us much good,’ Chiarello said, ‘In the process, [they] may have to close the entrance to the community.’
Construction on the intersection began on Sept. 11, 2006 without notice to Parham.
‘Neither [Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Housing William] Zeller nor Brase’s office consulted with PVRC or Palo Verde Management before this final decision was made, nor were any plan details communicated,’ according to a letter sent to members of the graduate council by the Palo Verde Residents’ Council.
Construction was stopped temporarily until Sept. 18, and Chiarello and Kassa, among others, attempted to meet with Chancellor Michael Drake on two occasions. Because Drake was unavailable, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez met with the group instead and decided the next day that $75,000 would be contributed by the administration to the construction project.
‘But we are still paying $55,000 plus a five percent interest rate over 30 years out of our rent to take care of a nonexistent problem,’ Chiarello said.
‘The whole issue sends a very strong message to graduate students that basically the whim of three professors is more highly valued than graduate student safety, convenience [and] finances,’ Kaasa said.
However, Zeller and Director of Campus and Environmental Planning Richard Demerjian said in an e-mail that the decision to alter the original plan of the intersection ‘provides more convenient vehicle access to the academic core for Palo Verde while limiting the lighting, noise and traffic impacts of the intersection on University Hills residents. … It protects the long-term quality of both neighborhoods.’
According to Chiarello, Palo Verde residents discovered that there was approximately $900,000 left over from a previous construction project, where they had previously been told that only $40,000 was left over.
Gomez told Palo Verde residents that the leftover funds were going to be contributed to a wiring project for the older Palo Verde buildings, but Chiarello expects the project to cost only $130,000. Exactly how accurate the $900,000 estimate is is being investigated.
Graduate students are particularly concerned because the money put into these projects is from their own rent. If a project is completed under budget, Chiarello and Kaasa believe excess funds should either be returned to Palo Verde for other projects or used to relieve the loan that was taken for the projects.
‘We are concerned for the lack of fiscal responsibility by housing administration and campus,’ Chiarello said. ‘The bottom line is gross misuse of graduate student funds.’
The conflict is, for now, settled between Palo Verde’s graduate students and University Hills residents and campus administrators. Chiarello believes graduate students have lost.
‘Maybe we’ll keep fighting. We’ll see,’ Chiarello said.