Thursday, September 23, 2010

Housing the UC President

Private funds pay for UC President’s house (excerpt)

By Sean Greene, 9/23/10, Daily Bruin

Nestled at the center of 10.6 acres of diverse botanical gardens in a Mediterranean-esque climate, the Blake House used to serve as the official residence of the UC president. The house stands two stories tall, occupies more than 13,000 square feet, and overlooks the San Francisco Bay from the hills of Kensington, Calif. But the house also stands next to the Hayward Fault, putting it in structural jeopardy in the event of an earthquake.

The cost to resolve these concerns is in the neighborhood of $10 million, said Michael Reese, UC associate vice president of business operations. “It has just not been maintained on a regular basis,” Reese said. Among the repairs needed is severe seismic retrofitting. Reese said the UC has been studying the residence for more than a decade.

A report from Michael Willis Architects in September 2002 compared the house’s conditions to “sitting on ‘seismic ball bearings.’” A November 2002 report by Degenkolb Engineers opined that the house was structurally sound. “We would expect the residence to provide life safety protection to its occupants and allow them to safely exit,” the report stated.

When UC President Mark Yudof took his position in 2008, he agreed with UC recommendations that leasing another residence was still the better option because of the scale of renovations that were needed. “(The president’s house is) not just a residence, it’s intended as a public space … meant to be used for entertaining and bringing in the university community,” Reese said, which makes finding suitable replacement properties more difficult.

The university leased the Woodmont house in the Oakland Hills for two years, beginning May 15, 2008 and leased for $13,235 per month for the first year and $13,365 per month for the second year. To add to costs, the university also increased security of the residence, in light of protests targeting administrators’ personal residences. Security cost $127,443 for the two years. The Bay Citizen newspaper reported last month that the Woodmont landlord planned to keep the $32,100 security deposit, in addition to requesting $45,000 to cover repairs for damages inflicted on the house. Because of the possibility of litigation, the university declined to discuss the costs of these disputes.

The practice of housing university presidents is nothing out of the ordinary, said Steve Montiel, UC spokesman. Universities all over the country house their presidents, and the UC even has a policy that states presidents and chancellors be housed on university property.

After the lease on the Woodmont house ended this summer, Yudof and his wife were forced to abruptly move, and they lived in the Claremont Hotel until a more permanent residence was leased in Lafayette, Calif. The house rents for $11,500 per month ­– $2,000 less than the Woodmont residence. The operating expenses are also projected to be about 25 percent lower, the university stated.

“We realized that even if Woodmont had worked out, the costs were becoming prohibitive,” Reese said. “We needed to look for more inexpensive options.” …

However high the expenses of Yudof’s housing, the university emphasized that no state funds were used when footing the bill on Yudof’s housing bills. Instead, the president’s and chancellor’s housing is paid for through a private endowment called the Edward F. Searles Fund, established in 1919. The fund initially provided the UC with more than $1 million in investments and cash to be used “in such manner as the regents should deem proper to the uses of the university.” As of July 1, 2010, the fund was valued at $161,114,912. Although the fund can technically be used for anything, the state policy does not allow funding for university expenses. Accordingly, the UC is left to its own devices to find a way to pay for the maintenance of chancellor and president residences. Reese said the UC has to be responsible for whether the fund is being used for the right purposes. It comes back to using these residences for hosting public events…

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