UC regents reject reported $12-million cost of new home for president after racist attack on current house
University of California regents late Wednesday rejected a proposal to buy a new home for President Michael V. Drake after his current Berkeley residence was defaced by racist graffiti and came under other attacks this year.
The purchase of a new residence would have been financed with private funds but regents, meeting in closed session, voted 13-7 against the proposal, according to board minutes, and will seek other alternatives to secure safe housing for Drake and his family.
Drake, the UC system’s first Black president in its 155-year history, was not at home when a vandal spray-painted racial slurs and profanity on the front and back of the home in May. But the attack horrified the UC and Berkeley community, led to an ongoing hate crime investigation by local law enforcement and fueled alarm over the need for better security for Drake and his wife, Brenda.
The racist attack followed other incidents, including the smashing of one of the house windows and intrusion onto the property by trespassers during the five-week strike by UC academic workers late last year. UC erected a fence around the perimeter in March, but a UC official said the vandal involved in the racist graffiti jumped over the fence to deface the property.
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Talk about the housing proposal began circulating in public earlier this week. State Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-Panorama City) blasted UC in a committee hearing Monday for considering buying a “close to $12-million home” for Drake even as the university, she said, was opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen state labor rights for its workers.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, took the issue to social media on Tuesday, posting her disbelief over the proposal and an image of the regents’ closed session notice. Several protestors, some in medical scrubs, showed up Wednesday at the meeting at UCLA carrying signs, “INVEST IN SAFE PATIENT CARE NOT MANSIONS!” Gonzalez Fletcher also reposted a video clip of a woman who identified herself as a UCLA nurse saying that millions for a home could instead pay for a lot of nurses “to make sure patients are being taken care of.”
As a former state legislator, Gonzalez Fletcher said, she understood the security needs of public officials — her home was set on fire last year in what authorities concluded was arson. But purchasing a multimillion-dollar “mansion” would not be the best security solution at a time of financial distress among many workers at UC and elsewhere, she said. Gonzalez Fletcher also criticized UC’s failure to allow public comment before the closed session.
UC Regents Board Chair Rich Leib declined to confirm or deny a $12-million price tag, nearly twice the cost of the current presidential residence, which was acquired in 2021 for $6.5 million.
“We are very concerned about making sure President Drake and his family are safe and secure based on the horrific attack that occurred,” Leib said, “but we will not be going forward with this proposal.”
One regent who voted no said the the price tag was too high — and that buying another home without first selling two other UC-owned residential properties in the area was financially unsound. An independent security review of the proposed new home found it only offered “incrementally” more security than the current residence. And buying a pricey presidential home would be unwise when students are struggling with housing costs, labor negotiations are looming and key state elected officials were unsupportive, the regent added.
The regent, who requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, was willing to back other options — extensive security upgrades at the current home, relocation to a rental property.
In the May vandalism, the perpetrator also spray-painted “Jan. 6, 2021” — the day of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — on Drake’s residence and other homes in the area, according to the Berkeley Scanner, which first reported the attack.
The Scanner reported that the Berkeley Police Department received a call about a vandalism report about 10:45 p.m. on May 15 and also a notice about a video alarm at Drake’s home that night. The news website published a photo of the residence papered over in several places in the front.
“The University of California condemns all hate crimes committed against members of our campus communities. We will continue doing everything possible to create a safe and welcoming university community for all,” a UC statement said at the time.
The UC admitted a record number of California first-year students for fall 2023, led by Latinos and an increase in Native Americans who helped make up the largest ever group of underrepresented students offered admission.
A UC spokesman declined Wednesday to comment on the incidents, saying they remained under investigation.
UC’s $6.5-million purchase of the current residence included some artwork and furnishings original to the house. The 1928 home, hailed by UC as an “architectural gem,” was designed by pioneering architect Julia Morgan, one of the first women to graduate from the College of Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley. She is best known for designing Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
The university initially purchased it in 1971 and sold it in 1991, repurchasing it as the official residence for Drake and future UC presidents. UC described the home as a “6,400-square-foot main building [that] blends Renaissance, Mediterranean and Moorish styles.”
The house lacks a lengthy setback from the sidewalk and its location on Claremont Boulevard, close to busy College Avenue, People’s Park and UC Berkeley, made it challenging to secure. It is not clear whether Drake and the regents will continue seeking a new residence — possibly a more secure high-rise condo, which housed former President Janet Napolitano — or further secure the current home, which has received additional safety upgrades since the attack.
“We are committed to whatever it takes to keep him and his family safe and secure,” Leib said.
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