By Chancellor Gene Block
(The following op-ed was published Feb. 9 in the Daily Bruin.)
UCLA’s planned sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden has generated an unusual volume of commentary from our neighbors in Bel Air and conservation- and preservation-minded individuals and groups. I am dismayed by mischaracterizations of our motives and concerned about the misunderstanding of facts. I feel compelled to clarify key issues.
Regent (Edward) Carter did not own the garden. The university purchased the garden from a third party using resources Carter made available in a 1964 gift agreement. He also made a commitment to donate the adjoining residence following his death.
The 1964 agreement made clear that the university could sell both the residence and the garden if it did not wish to use the home as a chancellor’s residence or guest house for campus visitors. When donors make gifts of property, formal agreements routinely envision a day when the university would no longer find it practical to retain the property.
A 1982 agreement with Carter said the university would sell the residence and use proceeds from the sale to establish a $500,000 endowment to maintain the garden. The agreement also said the university would use the proceeds to fund professorships and endowments specified by Carter. The remaining proceeds would be unrestricted and available for campus priorities such as scholarships and fellowships. The agreement also named the garden for his wife, Hannah, though she was not a party to the agreement.
Since 1982, it has become clear that Carters’ vision for the garden could not be achieved. In 1993, UCLA determined that the garden did not serve a teaching or research purpose. The campus and Carter also learned in 1989 that the area used for parking was not owned by the university but in fact by an adjacent property owner.
In addition, it became clear that payout from the garden-maintenance endowment would not generate enough revenue to cover maintenance costs, leaving an annual shortfall of approximately $100,000.
For all these reasons, we concluded we could no longer continue to own the garden while achieving Carter’s vision. Accordingly, we sought and received permission from a Superior Court judge to sell the garden.
Before publicly announcing our decision to sell the garden, we reached out to interested parties, including the executor of Carter’s estate, preservation-minded groups and individuals, leadership of the Bel Air Association and UCLA faculty representatives.
Could UCLA have done a better job evaluating the garden’s utility as an academic resource before agreeing to maintain it in perpetuity? Yes. Could we have done a better job communicating with interested parties? Yes. But to allege that we have been underhanded and disrespectful is false. This overheated rhetoric is unfortunate and non-constructive. These are complex issues involving decades-old real estate transactions and gift agreements, and reasonable people can disagree.
Carter’s son Bill Carter said in a recent unsolicited letter that his father would have understood the reasons for the sale, contrary to the position taken by one of Mrs. Carter’s children. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Bruin published editorials supporting our decision to sell, agreeing that our limited resources are best directed toward our academic mission and not maintaining a public garden in a residential neighborhood with no parking. Simply put, we are selling the garden because it is in the best interests of the university.
Recently, we have been asked to work with interested parties to preserve the garden. We are hopeful that the garden will be purchased by a group or an individual committed to its preservation. We delayed the planned sale by several months to allow preservation groups the opportunity to catalog and photograph the garden and to consult those with means to bid on the property.
The university has structured a fair and equitable bidding process, consistent with the laws governing the sale of university property. However, we will not place restrictions on the garden’s future use, because that would significantly diminish its value at sale. I also must emphasize that the lack of any parking makes it extremely difficult to operate the garden as a public resource.
We expect to release the bid packages for the Carter estate and garden later this month and to open the bids in May. As much as I wish we were in a position to partner with others to preserve the garden, the unfortunate reality is that UCLA has been severely impacted by dramatic reductions in state support and must sell the property. Above all else, our priority must be to ensure our ability to provide affordable, high-quality education and conduct research in service to the state, the nation and the world.
It’s clear the community values the Japanese garden; now is the time to marshal resources and submit a bid.