By Terry Rodgers
As evidenced by the sparse turnout at a public hearing on Feb. 24, a proposal to revamp the long vacant official residence of the UCSD chancellor is no longer pushing many hot buttons.
That wasn’t the case seven years ago, when historic preservationists and Native Americans became shocked and outraged over the university’s plans to demolish the historic adobe home and build a mansion at the oceanfront site where the Kumeyaay once buried their dead.
After getting heavy pushback from critics in 2004, the university took a step back and formed a community advisory council to help rethink the project.
The result is a completely different approach, which is described in an inch-thick draft Environmental Impact Report recently released for public review and the subject of the hearing attended by eight people at the USCD Faculty Club.
The former plan to demolish the house has been abandoned in favor of an extensive remodel job that advisory board members say could end up costing between $8 million and $10 million.
The cost will be high because the 1950s-vintage adobe house needs to be made earthquake-safe by attaching the roof more securely to the walls. In addition, new utilities must be installed along with extensive drainage alterations and bluff stabilization to protect the clifftop property from collapsing onto the beach. The property also is situated on what is essentially an Indian cemetery.
University officials emphasized that great care would be taken not to disturb the numerous remains of Native Americans that are concentrated at the 7-acre La Jolla Farms property, which overlooks Black’s Beach.
For instance, excavation needed to install a sewer line and to sink piers to support a retaining wall at the southern edge of the property will be dug by hand with a Native American monitor present in case any remains are unearthed.
Courtney Coyle, an attorney representing Carmen Lucas, a prominent member of the Laguna Band Indians, said her client supports the revised project but doesn’t feel the environmental report accurately reflects how, despite the extensive mitigation measures, the sacred site will still be disturbed.
Some members of the Kumeyaay are still angry over previous removal of Indian bones from the site. They’ve asked the university to issue an official apology and to allow tribal members to hold a healing ceremony at the property, Coyle said.
Don Schmidt, a representative of the La Jolla Historical Society, which fought to prevent the demolition, said his group was pleased with the project’s new direction but still had lingering concerns about preserving key features of the landscape.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go,” he said.
Rebecca Horowitz, a UCSD student, said plans to install a massive wall to halt further landslides on the southern edge of the property may be for naught because the cliff is so unstable it will eventually collapse.
“These aren’t really things that work over time,” she said.
No one has lived in the home since 2004, when the house was deemed to be unsafe for habitation. Chancellor Marye Anne Fox receives reimbursement for university-related expenses for the home she and her husband purchased near Mount Soledad.
Brian Gregory, an assistant vice chancellor who chairs the community advisory committee, said current plans are to pay for the project with donations.
“We want it to be primarily gift-funded,” he said.
The deadline for submitting public comments on the project is March 31. The schedule calls for finalizing the environmental report in May and seeking approval from the California Coastal Commission in June. Construction would start this fall be completed in the fall of 2012.