Chancellor’s House EIR explores options, including demolition


By Katie Reynolds

La Jolla Light

Although the issue has been stalled, the newly released Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on UCSD’s Chancellor’s House is the next step toward a final decision.

In 2004, the Chancellor’s House was abandoned after a seismic and structural analysis reported electrical, mechanical, plumbing, drainage, ventilation and structural problems. As well as providing a home for the Chancellor, the building also supplied a meeting area for academic and social groups within the community.

Initially, the University planned to sell the house rather than spend the money to refurbish or demolish it. When University officials succeeded in raising sufficient funds, UCSD commissioned a work group to explore other options.

According to a UCSD report, it was determined that, not only would demolishing the house be less expensive than renovating it, but refurbishing the building would result in a “functionally obsolete facility.”

The EIR analyzed different options for the building and the land surrounding it. The main proposal being evaluated is the demolition of the 11,400-square-foot structure and the construction of a 10,800-square-foot building in its place over the next two years.

Concerns have been raised about how demolition will affect the architecturally and historically significant building. The structure was built for the namesake of Black’s Beach, William Black, in the 1950’s by historical architect William Lumpkins. It was sold to the University in 1967.

Because the building’s design is characteristic of the time and area in which it was built, the La Jolla Historical Society wants to protect the property by nominating it to the National Register of Historic Places. John Bolthouse, the historical society’s executive director, said, “Our mission is to promote the preservation and appreciation of architectural icons. We believe this is an icon because of its architecture and location, the fact that it may be a Native American burial ground and that it housed many (UCSD) chancellors throughout history.”

Bolthouse prefers restoring the building to demolishing it. After speaking with engineers and architects, he said he “respectfully disagrees” with the University’s claim that restoring the building would be more expensive than rebuilding it.

The project raises environmental concerns as well. A native California plant called Diegan Coastal Sage Scrub has been found on the land, as well as an animal species called the coastal California gnatcatcher. Both of these could be disturbed during the demolition process.

If the building demolition occurs, the EIR investigates ways to lessen the negative impact on the building and the land surrounding it. Regarding the environment, the home’s reconstruction would try to avoid destruction of native California landscaping by raising fences around it. Similarly, a noise technician would be hired to make sure that the gnatcatchers go undisturbed. During the reconstruction process, water use would be decreased by 20 percent, energy would be optimized, and environmentally safe building materials such as low-emission paint would be used. A Native American monitor would remain on site during excavations and construction to decide how remains should be treated if they are found.

If demolished, the University plans to document the original house during demolition and reconstruction and keep the record in the UCSD Facilities Design & Construction, or in UCSD Archives, Mandeville Special Collection Library.

The EIR also explores options besides tearing the building down. Relocating the home is one possibility. While the current home is located on La Jolla Farms Road, two other sites that have been considered for rebuilding a new Chancellor’s House are the tennis courts on La Jolla Shores Drive and the north point site on UCSD west campus.

Another option is to construct a building on piers to reduce ground disturbance of the Native American burial grounds and the environmental landscape.

Either retaining the original foundation of the building or constructing the building on piers are the most favorable available options in the EIR for Carmen Lucas, one of two people at the Chancellor’s House who monitors ground disturbance of Native American cultural remains. Lucas said, “We need to recognize we are dealing with human beings here, regardless of race. This a continuum of native people documented in the earth.” She added, “This isn’t just about Native American history. This is about national history. People do not realize what they are doing.” Lucas said that it has been known since the 1920’s that the land was a prehistory cemetery, and cultural deposits from 10,000 to 15,000 years ago have been held in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. since the 1950’s.

According to UCSD spokeswoman Pat Jacoby, there will be a public hearing in which people can respond to the EIR on Thursday July 12, at 6 p.m. in Room 111A in the Chancellor’s Complex in the University Center neighborhood on the UCSD campus. People can respond to the EIR by written comments up until Friday, Aug. 3. After reviewing the EIR and the comments by the public, the UC Board of Regents will then select a final project and certify the EIR in a meeting tentatively scheduled for September of 2007.