AJU Bel Air Campus Sale Falls Through

AJU Bel Air Campus Sale Falls Through

It is unclear what American Jewish University’s next step will be after an international company backed out of its $65 million purchase of the institution’s campus in Bel Air.

The Switzerland-based language education and cultural exchange company EF Education First announced last week it would pull out of the deal after reaching an apparent impasse with neighborhood residents who lobbied complaints about the firm’s plans. The university had accepted EF’s bid for the property, known as the Familian Campus, last year.

“EF Schools notified us that they will be terminating their purchase and sale agreement for the Familian Campus in Bel Air,” a representative with the university said in a statement last week. “American Jewish University will be exploring all options for the future of this property.”

EF publicly announced its decision via letter to the Los Angeles Planning Commission, with which it withdrew its application with the department. In that letter, EF Vice President Shawna Marino cited the determined opposition from neighborhood residents toward the International Learning Campus that the company was planning.

Although Marino said the company’s plan to essentially re-use existing buildings and preserve much of the land’s footprint had received many endorsements from local panels and organizations, many local residents had become “firmly entrenched in their opposition and communicated in ways that made us increasingly uncomfortable” to press forward.

“Based on the comments we have heard and the letters submitted in opposition, it is crystal clear to us that there are individuals in the neighborhood who do not want international students in their community,” Marino wrote in her letter. “This is the first time we have experienced this level of fear and bias — which is, ironically, the very thing that EF’s programs seek to overcome. And while we feel confident that we could have eventually proven our project’s merits, we don’t like to fight our neighbors.”

In a letter sent to the Planning Commission in April, leaders of the Casiano Estates Homeowners Association dissented from EF’s assertion that its school would not significantly change the current makeup and operation of the 22-acre site. In addition to criticizing EF representatives for their apparent lack of punctuality in responding to complaints, the homeowners’ association expressed concern about the number of students EF wished to house on campus. It reasoned that adding hundreds of students to residences on the property represented a significant risk in the event of a wildfire evacuation.

The association also said that EF being a for-profit operation motivated the company to add as many students as it could, whereas the nonprofit nature of AJU made its motivations more reasonable to work with.

AJU officials did not telegraph their next step in seeking a buyer for the property. However, multiple outlets reported last year that Milken Community School, a nearby Jewish private middle and high school, had also submitted a bid for the site.

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