UC regents grapple with how best to protect president after racist attack on his home
For months, University of California President Michael V. Drake has been unnerved by a series of security threats at his Berkeley home: Racist graffiti. A smashed window. A break-in. Trespassers who jumped a fence surrounding the property that was erected in March.
In one particularly disturbing attack in May, a vandal spray-painted racial slurs and profanity across the front and back of the presidential residence. Drake, the UC system’s first Black president in its 155-year history, was not at home. But the attack shocked 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.
Regents, however, have not come up with a workable plan — and they are still looking for solutions. A majority rejected a proposal to use private funds to buy a new, reportedly $12-million home for Drake in a 13-7 vote at a closed session meeting late Wednesday.
The high price tag was a major issue for those who voted no, but regents emphasized that they were committed to finding other alternatives.
“We are very concerned about making sure President Drake and his family are safe and secure based on the horrific attack that occurred,” UC Board of Regents Chair Rich Leib said after the meeting. “But we will not be going forward with this proposal.”
University of California regents rejected a new home for President Michael V. Drake, the system’s first Black leader, after racist graffiti and other attacks on his current home raised alarm about his security.
Drake was unavailable for comment Friday.
Some regents — who all requested anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue — described the myriad considerations they weighed in what one called a “tricky” decision that provoked greater disagreement than even contentious issues such as tuition increases and standardized testing.
One regent who voted no said the purchase price 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 was willing to back other options — extensive security upgrades at the current home, for instance, or relocation to a rental property, which housed former Presidents Janet Napolitano and Mark Yudof.
Litigation blocking student housing projects, a potential delay in state funding and escalating construction costs are among the challenges.
A regent who supported the purchase said Drake deserved decisive action on his pressing security concerns as an “unusually effective, principled leader” who has led efforts to make a UC education more affordable, fight climate change and open more access to California students, particularly those from low-income families and communities of color.
“Investing funds from a private gift to purchase a residence where he, his family and future presidents can be safe is not only prudent and responsible, but smart,” the regent said Friday. “It is unconscionable to continue to wait, hoping for better options in one of the tightest, most expensive housing markets in the country. Pledging to care about his safety rings hollow after five months of inaction since he was the victim of a terrible hate crime.”
The regent added that UC should sell the other properties when able to get “top dollar” for them and work to “do right” by university employees, particularly the lowest-paid staff.
The housing proposal drew sharp criticism from labor unions and their allies this week. State Sen. 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 and several protesters, some in medical scrubs, showed up at the Wednesday meeting at UCLA carrying signs, “INVEST IN SAFE PATIENT CARE NOT MANSIONS!”
The law’s passage comes amid a housing crisis affecting students in the UC system. It could ease the way for housing at Berkeley’s People’s Park.
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.
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 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.
A UC spokesman declined this week to comment on the incidents, saying they remained under investigation.
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.
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.
But the house is challenging to secure. It lacks a lengthy setback from the sidewalk and is located on Claremont Boulevard, close to busy College Avenue, People’s Park and UC Berkeley.
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