Killing with Kindness – the 300K CSUF President’s-home Remodel.

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El Dorado Ranch -- before and after

El Dorado Ranch, before and after remodel (artist's misconception)

Headline from California Watch: CSU Fullerton spends $300,000 to remodel president’s house.

Now granted, a university President’s house is not merely a university President’s home.  It’s a place to invite potential big donors for fundraising.  It’s a place to meet visiting dignitaries and local officials, to build bonds between campus and community.  So it really ought to look sharp.  And so, at a time when tuition is rising, it may well make sense to spend … $300,000 on a remodel????? (Sorry, lost my head there for a moment.)

Well, the historic “C. Stanley Chapman house” (aka, and I am not making this up, “El Dorado Ranch”) is a $3.4 million house, so under 10% of its cost may not be entirely crazy.  And according to university spokesman Christopher Bugbee, it supposedly has not had a major renovation since 1951 and badly needs repair.  From the linked article: “The university will replace 20-year-old carpet, peeling wallpaper and old flooring, as well as perform some wood preservation and restoration. … Safety improvements, such as asbestos abatement and sewer line replacement, are also in the plans.”  And so it may be … even reasonable … that ….

$300,000 on a remodel?????

OK, I’m going to have to stop being reasonable here.  Here’s what State Sen. Leland Yee has to say:

“Instead of directing the funding for our students, they are directing it towards the comfort of top executives.   All of us would love to renovate our homes, to modernize it and all that. But when we don’t have the money, then you need to prioritize. Unfortunately, this is a classic example of the CSU, where the priorities are always towards the executives and not toward the students.”

Unfair?  Get used to it, CSUF; you should have seen this reaction coming from a mile away.

And here’s California Faculty Association President Lillian Taiz, pinning the tail right onto the donkey by calling the university’s decision “another round of tone-deafness.”

“If you have $300,000 available, where are you going to spend it?   Spending it on renovating the president’s house is an odd choice. Even if the money is coming from foundations, there’s probably a lot of students who could use some scholarship money right now.”

It might … might … be somehow justifiable, but that’s almost beside the point.  As the article notes:

“The 23,000 members of the association began voting this month on whether to authorize a fall strike after the collective bargaining process for CSU faculty members stalled.  Meanwhile, CSU officials plan to cut enrollment by up to 25,000 students in 2013-14, and they have said that if voters do not pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative come November, the system will lay off up to 3,000 faculty and staff.”

The university has just put itself into what we call “a bad bargaining position.”

I don’t know how it happened in this case, but over the centuries this is sometimes how things like this have happened.

A new ruler comes into town.  The courtiers are worried — whom will she favor?  How can they secure their own position under the new regime?  “I know,” lightbulbs pop over courtier’s heads, “I’ll be the one to arrange a splendid gift for the new ruler!  Then she’ll certainly appreciate me!”

Frankly, people do this sort of thing all the times with their bosses in various ways, hence “it’s good to be the king.”  But when it goes over the top like this, what it actually does is poison the water for the new leader before she even arrives.  It pushes the peasants (and students, and faculty, and workers) closer to revolt.  It just LOOKS BAD, OK?  This will CAUSE PROBLEMS.  Isn’t anyone there paid to notice this sort of thing?

The one person who can come out as a hero is the new ruler herself, Mildred Garcia.  If she were to, say, refuse $34,000 of her top-ranked salary for ten years to cover these repairs, she’d be heroic.  But that is unfair to ask.  This isn’t:

Assuming that the contracts cannot be broken — after all, Milton Gordon and his wife did live there for 22 years so the asbestos situation may not be quite so dire! – she can announce, now, that she will raise the money privately and redirect this money back into scholarships or whatever makes people cheer.

In exchange for their donations — I don’t know, let’s say that people get to ride all of the rides in the house free for a year.  (It works for Knott’s Berry Farm!)  Just someway, somehow, don’t start off your time in Fullerton with this heavily planted wrong foot.

I know that someone — or many people — at CSUF were just trying to do incoming President Garcia a favor — but they are killing her with kindness here.  She can undo the damage — and maybe more — by saying “no thanks, we’ll keep the public money for other and better uses.”

She probably should not wait until she arrives on campus to do it.  Of the attacks coming down the pike over this, this story here is probably going to be among the nicer ones.

About Greg Diamond

Prolix worker's rights and government accountability attorney. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Runs for office sometimes, so far to offer a challenge to someone nasty who would otherwise have run unopposed. Someday he might pick a fight intending to win it rather than just to dent someone. You'll know it when you see it. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. A family member works part-time as a campaign treasurer. He doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he hated. He does advise some local campaigns informally and generally without compensation. If that changes, he will declare the interest. He also runs a less frequently published blog called "The Brean," for his chosen hometown, where he is now fighting with its wealthiest and most avaricious citizen-donors. This just seems to be his way.