CSU Fullerton spends $300k to remodel president's house

In March, the California State University Board of Trustees voted to give Garcia – the outgoing president of CSU Dominguez Hills in Carson – the maximum pay raise allowable under a new executive compensation cap approved by trustees in January. In addition to her base salary of $324,500, she gets free housing at the presidential estate and a $12,000-per-year car allowance.

The decision stoked outrage among some faculty and students, who said the raise sent the wrong message at a time of devastating budget cuts at CSU.

Also in March, CSU Fullerton began work on fixing up Garcia's future home, the historic C. Stanley Chapman house, also known as El Dorado Ranch. Located just a few miles from the downtown Fullerton campus, the two-story, eight-bedroom, 5,800-square-foot house is nestled on a 3.9-acre parcel with a tennis court. The property was last assessed at $3.4 million in 2011, property records show.

Money for the construction does not come from state funding. It's from surplus revenue from one or more of the campus auxiliary organizations, which run commercial operations on campus, university spokesman Christopher Bugbee said.

Before outgoing CSU Fullerton President Milton Gordon and his wife moved out of the estate in February, they resided there for 22 years. University officials say the house is in dire need of repair. It has received light maintenance over the years, but no major renovation since 1951, Bugbee said.

But some say the move shows the university's misplaced priorities during lean times – whether it involves state funding or not. For the cost of the renovation, the university could pay for roughly 49 full scholarships for CSU Fullerton students, for example.

"Instead of directing the funding for our students, they are directing it towards the comfort of top executives," said Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, a frequent critic of the university's executive compensation practices.

"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," Yee said.

The bulk of the construction, which is slated for completion in late June, involves upgrading the kitchen to better accommodate the many events and receptions held at El Dorado Ranch. The remodel also includes upgrades to lighting, electrical, plumbing and the alarm system.

The university will replace 20-year-old carpet, peeling wallpaper and old flooring, as well as perform some wood preservation and restoration, Bugbee said. Safety improvements, such as asbestos abatement and sewer line replacement, are also in the plans.

CSU Sacramento came under scrutiny by the California State Auditor in 2007 [PDF] because a university auxiliary organization spent $27,000 to remodel President Alexander Gonzalez's kitchen. In that case, Gonzalez owned the home.

Garcia is slated to move in July 1. If the renovations aren't complete by that time, she will receive a $5,000-per-month housing allowance until the house is finished, according to the terms of her offer letter.

Bugbee said the renovation plans were prompted not by any request or demand from Garcia, but by the need for repairs. The remodel was authorized by interim President Willie Hagan.

Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, called the university's decision "another round of tone-deafness." 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.

"If you have $300,000 available, where are you going to spend it?" Taiz said. "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."

A 2001 Los Angeles Times profile of El Dorado Ranch described a two-story foyer with "rich birch paneling," a living room with a grand piano and crystal light fixtures, and a library with a wood-burning marble fireplace and wingback chairs.

Bugbee said the house is not as grand as people assume it is. 

"It's not the palatial specter that people expect when they hear about the El Dorado Ranch," Bugbee said. "It's a well-appointed, reasonable structure."

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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