A legal dispute over UCLA’s sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden has been resolved.
The university and the Caldwell family issued the following joint statement on Oct. 1:
“The Caldwells and UCLA have settled all of their disputes in connection with their lawsuit, Caldwell vs. The Regents of the University of California.
“The Caldwells and UCLA recognize that both sides worked together in good faith to reach a resolution that both honors Regent Carter’s legacy through continued preservation of the garden while allowing the university to focus on its primary mission of education and research.
“The settlement will allow the university to sell the residence and Hannah Carter Japanese Garden together with conditions that will preserve the garden for no less than 30 years.
“Both sides feel it is a fair and reasonable settlement and look forward to working together to fulfill the terms of the settlement.”
Edward Carter, a member of the UC Board of Regents from 1952 to 1988, facilitated UCLA’s acquisition of the garden and an adjacent residence from the original owners in 1964. UCLA agreed to enter into an escrow to purchase the garden and Carter agreed to enter into an escrow to purchase the residence.
The parties agreed that Carter would bequeath the residence to the university, reserving for himself a life estate and the ability of his wife, Hannah, to live in the residence for two years after his death. Thereafter, the residence was to be used by the university’s chief administrative officer or “distinguished guests.”
Under the 1964 agreement, UCLA was required to “maintain the existing Japanese garden … in good condition and repair,” and, if it sold the residence, to sell it together with the garden.
A new agreement in 1982 deleted the requirement that the garden be sold with the residence and required the university “to retain the garden portion in perpetuity” as the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.
Edward Carter died in 1996 and Hannah Carter continued to live in the residence. A 1999 amendment gave her the right to rent the residence for an extended period and gave UCLA the option to keep or sell the residence once her occupancy ended. She passed away in April 2009.
In May 2009, the chancellor of UCLA sent a letter to Mrs. Carter’s daughter Anne Caldwell, assuring her that her mother’s “name and legacy will live on through the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, a beautiful reminder of her gracious and giving spirit.” There was no mention of the university’s intent to sell the garden.
In July 2010, UCLA filed a “petition to modify trust” in probate court in Alameda County, where the University of California system is headquartered, seeking authorization to sell the garden “in deviation from an agreement with the donor who funded its purchase.” The petition was granted in September 2010.
UCLA listed the garden for sale at a price of $5.7 million, with no requirement that the garden be preserved or maintained. The residence was listed for sale for $9 million.
After learning of the proposed sale, the Caldwells filed a complaint in May 2012, alleging breach of contract. The following month, they moved for a preliminary injunction to block the sale and force UCLA to continue to maintain the garden. UCLA claimed that the family lacked standing to challenge or enforce a charitable trust.
In July 2012, the trial court ruled, “Plaintiffs … establish that UCLA has breached the 1982 amendment by removing certain items of artwork and sculpture from the gardens and by taking steps to sell the garden parcel entirely, including obtaining a probate court judgment allowing them to sell the garden parcel.”
UCLA appealed, but the Court of Appeals found that: “The evidence is undisputed that the Caldwells had an interest in the garden as Hannah’s heirs and the trustees of her trust, and that they did not receive notice of the probate court proceedings.”
UCLA officials said in a statement at the time, “We continue to believe that selling the Japanese garden is in the best interests of the university. Campus resources are best applied toward UCLA’s academic mission rather than toward a garden that serves no teaching or research purpose and lacks the parking or shuttle space to operate as a public asset.”
The family and their supporters established a Facebook page and an online petition at Change.org to publicize their effort to stop the sale. The introduction to the petition, which collected 5,374 signatures, reads:
“A place of natural beauty and quiet retreat in the Los Angeles community of Bel-Air, the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is modeled on the gardens of Kyoto. The beautiful hillside garden was designed by noted Japanese garden designer Nagao Sakurai in 1959 and constructed between 1959 and 1961. It is recognized as one of the finest examples of Japanese gardens in America and was donated to the University of California in 1964.
“Sadly, the garden is now closed to the public and its survival is threatened. In November 2011, UCLA announced plans to sell the garden, citing rising maintenance costs, deferred maintenance, and the lack of attendance due to limited parking. The garden was donated to UCLA by the Carter family with a promise that the garden would not be sold.
“The garden was listed for sale in March 2012, after the University removed valuable art objects that are integral to the design of the garden.”
Supporters of the campaign included The Garden Conservancy, Los Angeles Conservancy, California Preservation Foundation, California Garden and Landscape History Society, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, American Society of Landscape Architects, National Trust for Historic Preservation, North American Japanese Garden Association, and American Public Gardens Association.
A trial was scheduled for July of this year, but was postponed. The proceedings were brought to an end by the out-of-court settlement.
In response to questions about whether the deal was the best one possible, the Facebook page provided some additional details: “Now the public bidding process will only attract buyers who also want the garden and are willing to maintain it … UCLA wanted to sell it to a private party with NO restrictions. It could have been bulldozed the next day. Requiring 30 years of maintaining it in its current form is a huge WIN for the garden.
“Now it is up the community to work with the buyer and the neighbors to restore public access. This is within reach.”