Thursday, March 19, 2015

Listen to the Regents morning session of March 18, 2015

As noted in a prior post, yours truly recorded the AM portion of the March 18, 2015 Regents meeting because the “Committee of Two” was slated to report in that session. As it turned out, however, for interesting reasons noted below, their report was postponed until the afternoon.  (We’ll eventually get to making a recording of the afternoon session and the other sessions of March 17 and 19.)  However, what occurred in the morning was interesting and not just because of the UC prez’s reaction to a demonstration. (See another prior post of today.)  The session started with public comments. Included was an obviously coordinated group of folks praising Merced’s “2020” project which was up for later approval. The 2020 project is a grand scheme by that campus to expand through a public-private partnership in which private developers will build a campus extension. Three developers have been chosen to make proposals:

For info on the general project plan, see:  We’ll come back to 2020 below.

Anyway, following the puffery on 2020, there were protests about the Committee of Two, Berkeley’s Gil Tract farm, and Berkeley’s Richmond expansion, leading to a demonstration.  Police cleared the room and the meeting then proceeded with reports by UC prez Napolitano and faculty rep Gilly.  The Committee on Finance considered a proposal to float a 100-year bond to create a revolving fund which would in turn finance various capital projects on selected campuses. Gov. Brown worried that the Regents would not have sufficient monitoring authority on the projects. And a student rep deviated from the 100-year bond to complain that financing student aid from tuition, effectively subsidizing lower income students from other students’ tuitions, had reached a limit.

The Committee then turned to the 2020 plan which started with a standard set of slides presented by Merced chancellor Dorothy Leland. All was supposed to run smoothly and lead to approval in September but then the questions began. Gov. Brown noted that having private developers involved amounted to borrowing in a complex way. It reminded him of the expensive de facto borrowing plan he inherited from Schwarzenegger and then killed. (A litigated settlement with developers that resulted was recently reached.) The plan involved selling state office buildings to developers for upfront cash and then leasing the office space back from them. Other Regents chimed in that the 2020 plan was borrowing that would adversely affect UC’s credit rating, even though it was unconventional borrowing. It turned out that the project had originally been assigned for review by the Regents’ Building and Grounds committee but mysteriously transferred to Finance, apparently when objections at the former committee developed. No one could say, despite several questions from Regents, exactly how and why the shift in committees was made or who requested it. The 2020 plan will still be up for further scrutiny in September. But all did not go well for proponents.

In the link below, 2020 is discussed from about 1:35-3:05, i.e., for an hour and a half.  Gov. Brown’s questioning begins at around 2:01. Regent Makarechian – with his developer background – begins his questioning at around 2:11.

It’s rare for Regents to take a harsh look at a project.  But blog readers will remember UCLA’s Grand Hotel as another such episode. The problem is that at the end of the day, the projects in question are approved, albeit at a later meeting.

A subsequent meeting Building and Grounds did clear another Merced project, an office building in downtown Merced.  A report on UC’s various green efforts was presented and the Committee of Two report was deferred until after lunch.

The audio link is below:

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