Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Grand Hotel: What Would Moses Do?

Robert Moses
No, not the biblical Moses.  The reference is to Robert Moses who was for decades (starting in the 1920s) the force behind roads, bridges, tunnels, etc., in New York City and the surrounding region.  Lots has been written about him.  Robert Caro's book (Google it) is quite critical.  But what sticks in my mind from the book (and I am going on memory) was how Moses got his highways into Long Island.  Basically, he built faster than opponents could litigate.  Ultimately, no judge was going to say roll up your road and put everything back the way it was.

All of this came to mind now that the Daily Bruin is carrying a story that that UCLA won round 1 in a legal case charging that environmental rules and other areas of process were violated in constructing the university's Grand Hotel.  As blog readers will know, the construction is under way and has been for some time.  The skeleton of the building is already visible.  (There is a second case, noted below, about taxes.)

Yours truly is not a legal scholar - for those who are we provide a link to the tentative decision below.  But put aside the legalities and ask yourself what the judge was faced with.  Could he tell UCLA to deconstruct the partly-finished building?  Unlikely.  What about just halting further construction so that the university could somehow fix its process deficiencies?  What would that accomplish other than adding costs to a project that would then be built anyway?

Note that the judge was not being asked to rule on whether the project was a good idea for UCLA.  The judge was not being asked if the donation could have been put to better use.  The judge was not being asked whether the top priority for UCLA, with all its other challenges, was to build a Grand Hotel in the middle of campus.  The judge was not being asked whether the shaky "business plan" for the Grand Hotel would work out.  He was not being asked who would pay the costs if the plan didn't work out.  Ultimately, there is no law that says that foolish decisions can't be made.

There is another case involving whether the Grand Hotel will have to pay taxes.  Unlike the one described above which became difficult once construction began, in a sense the tax one doesn't become relevant until the hotel is up and operating.  Right now, there is nothing going on at the unfinished hotel to tax.  (The tax case does have implications, however, for other hotel entities currently run by UCLA.)

In a sense, what we have here is an illustration that if the chancellor really gets committed to something, it happens.  There was a point early on in which the chancellor could have pulled back and resisted the direction underlings were pushing him.  Even the Regents - who pretty much rubber stamp all UC capital projects - were notably skeptical when it was first presented about the Grand Hotel.  But once the point of no return was reached, momentum took over and the chancellor became more and more committed to a project that shouldn't have happened.  It became a matter of authority and ego.  Too bad. 

The Bruin article is at

Legal types can read the tentative decision - which may be appealed - at the link below:

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