On Sept. 17, the University of California Board of Regents voted to spend $620,000 in order to carry out plans for renovations and repairs to the Blake House.
The Blake House, a 13,000 square foot mansion located four miles away from UC Berkeley, has been home to previous UC Presidents and may be used to house new President-elect Janet Napolitano. Napolitano began her term on Sept. 30, and was therefore not able to vote for the renovations on the house.
UC Regents policy states that it is required for all UC Presidents and Chancellors to live in houses provided by the Regents of the University of California.
“As part of their official duties, executive officers are responsible for extending official hospitality to important visitors and guests in conjunction with official functions. The University, therefore, provides executive officers and members of their households with suitable housing as their primary residence to perform the administrative, ceremonial and social duties required of their respective positions,” the policy stated.
The renovations will be paid for through the Searles Fund, a private fund given to the UC Regents in 1919 by Edward F. Searles. According to a University Office of the President statement on the Searles Fund, the fund was donated as a share of stocks that now has a market value of $188 million.
“According to the regents’ minutes, he [Searles] placed no restrictions on the endowment, other than that the gift be applied ‘in such manner as the regents should deem proper to the uses of the University,’” the statement said.
As a private fund for the benefits of the UC, the regents reserve the money for expenses not covered by the state government. The Searles Fund has previously been used to purchase and maintain homes for the President and Chancellors, as this is something that the state government does not pay for.
“If UC were to redirect this money to other purposes for which state support is needed (salaries, educational costs, etc.), the university would lack this mechanism to pay for those operational necessities that the state won’t pay for,” the Searles Fund statement said.
$250,000 of the $620,000 that the regents have approved to work on the house will go toward hiring an expert to inspect whether the house will be liveable after renovations are finished. The other $370,000 will go toward security upgrades, kitchen renovations, and deferred maintenance such as painting, roof repairs, and electrical and plumbing maintenance.
UC Spokesperson Brooke Converse said that the use of the Blake House after the inspections has not yet been decided.
“It is still unclear whether or not President-elect Napolitano and future presidents will be able to live at the house,” Converse said.
In 2008, a UC Newsroom statement was released regarding housing for previous President Mark Yudof.
“Because of its age and significant deferred maintenance issues, Blake House suffers from a variety of condition problems, including the fact that it sits on an active geologic slide, which causes continual foundation movement and related structural issues,” the press release stated.
The total estimated cost of repairs and renovations now adds up to $3.5 to $6 million. The house has fallen into further disrepair after not being lived in since 2008. New homes in Kensington, the area in which Blake House is located, range in price from $800,000 to $2 million.
Previous UC President Yudof voted not to allow renovations for the Blake House when he became President due to the current recession the country and the UC system was in. UC Regents made accommodations for Yudof to live in a house in Oakland that was rented for $11,550 a month.
Similar housing arrangements have been made for Napolitano while preliminary plans for the Blake House take place. She will be living in a house in Oakland that will cost $9,950 a month.
If homes for UC Presidents continue to be rented at this price, they will “eclipse the cost of renovation within 15 years,” according to the UC Regents’ agenda.
Blake House was donated to UC Berkeley in 1957. This fact is one reason that UC Regents are reluctant to selling the house and buying a new one.
“If Blake House is sold, the money would go to the Landscape Architecture Department at UC Berkeley,” Converse said. “It could not be used for buying a new house.”
Students from the Landscape Architecture Department at UC Berkeley currently work and take care of the Blake Garden, located outside of Blake House. Although the house has not been kept up since 2008, the garden is still thriving.
Blake Garden manager Lauri Twitchell commented on how the possibility of Napolitano moving into the Blake House will affect the Blake Garden.
“The past presidents have all been supporters of our program as a landscape laboratory for the UC Berkeley Dept.of Landscape Architecture and Environmental planning … We are open to the public and admission is free. I assume that will remain the same and there has been no indication that it will change,” Twitchell said in an email.
Converse said that the house is important to restore because it previously housed so many UC Presidents. The UC Regents would like to continue the tradition of housing UC Presidents there.
If it is decided that the house will not be appropriate for Napolitano and presidents after her to reside in, the UC Regents agenda stated that other possible uses for the Blake House are a location for entertainment and fundraising, for holding lectures and classes, and also for guest housing.
The amount of time it will take for renovations for the Blake House to finish is currently unknown. Converse said UC Regents are “hoping to bring something back by the January meeting.”
MELISSA DITTRICH can be reached at email@example.com.