University of California President Jack W. Peltason announced Friday that he is canceling the sale of a grove of ancient redwoods near Santa Cruz after reports of the sale prompted an outcry by alumni, students, faculty, neighbors and political officials.
"I have taken the unusual step of rejecting all bids which have been received for a 410-acre tract of forest and pasture which contains old-growth redwoods," Peltason said. "The university again will pursue discussions with parties willing to purchase the real estate and donate it to a public use."
Last week, the university tentatively agreed to sell the land to the Eel River Saw Mills of Humboldt County for $2.38 million. University officials said the money would be used for student aid and help ease the school's budget crisis. The university hopes to sell the property to a preservation group and use the proceeds for student assistance.
Karl Pister, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, said he urged Peltason to take the action after a barrage of calls, letters and electronic messages protested the sale of land that contains a stand of 1,000-year-old trees.
"I got E-mail from Colorado," Pister said. "I got telephone calls and letters. We raised the panic button for a lot of people, and I'm glad we could take the pressure off that situation."
At the same time, Pister said he hoped protesters understand the pressure the university has been under to find new sources of revenue.
"People are pounding on us to find resources to keep the university running and to keep this place financially accessible to the students of California," he said. "We were caught in a dilemma."
Pister said the land was put out for bid only after unsuccessful efforts last year to find a buyer who would preserve the property, half of which was deeded to the university in 1942 and the rest of which was purchased in 1952. Pister said the school decided to dispose of the land after determining it no longer had any "programmatic" use. The school had operated a campground on it from 1967 to 1974.
"From the standpoint of the university, it had become surplus property," Pister said.
In addition to about 38 acres of old-growth redwoods, the land has younger redwoods, Douglas fir, oaks, meadows and grasslands.
Jennifer Grover, a representative of Eel River Saw Mills said Friday that the firm did not plan to contest the university's decision.
Pister said that in looking for a new buyer, the university would ask for at least $2 million, the minimum price stipulated in its original request for bids. He noted that the San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League had bid $2.1 million, and said he hoped the nonprofit organization remained interested in the property.
"I don't think we'll sell it if it's not in the neighborhood of the offer we got before," he said.
John Dewitt, executive director of Save the Redwoods, said he was elated by the university's change of heart and indicated that his organization still was interested in the property.
"The league would be pleased to talk to the university about the future of the property if the university so desires," Dewitt said.