University House Gets Stay of Demolition

    UCSD officials’ plans to demolish the historic University
    House were once again interrupted Jan. 14 after state legislators and other
    advocacy organizations submitted last-minute letters of opposition.

    Since it was deemed uninhabitable in 2004, the university
    and several local parties, including historians and various American Indian
    groups, have clashed over what to do with the structure and surrounding
    property.

    Campus officials believed the wait would finally end last
    week, when the UC Board of Regents was scheduled to adopt its reduced-scope
    construction plan during the Jan. 15-17 meetings at UCLA.

    UCSD’s reduced-scope plan included reusing, when feasible,
    structural elements of the original adobe house, including remnants of the
    walls, ironwork and tiles. The plan also included an extensive historical
    archival record.

    However, letters from Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny and Sen.
    Christine Kehoe, asking for the matter to be deferred until more discussion
    takes place, forced the regents to postpone actions on the item.

    “I became involved because local tribes, the La Jolla
    Historic Society and members of the community let me know they had concerns
    about a historic site being razed,” Kehoe said.

    Ducheny said she became concerned when it appeared that UCSD
    had ended negotiations with the local groups.

    “UC officials also appear to have cut short discussions with
    tribal entities and may not have completed consultations that could result in
    feasible project changes to satisfy both tribal and university needs,” Ducheny
    said in a Jan. 11 letter.

    Courtney Coyle, an attorney representing one of the tribal
    entities concerned about the project, faults the university for poor
    communication with the community since the project began.

    “There have definitely been some deficiencies in the
    process,” Coyle said. “It was only in the last couple of months that any
    substantive outreach or progress was made with the tribal communities.”

    However, Executive Director of University Communications
    Dolores Davies said the university has made every effort to keep communication
    open with all constituencies.

    “We have been and will continue to be responsive and have an
    open dialogue with all members of the community,” Davies said in an email.

    UCSD is now proposing that UC President Robert C. Dynes,
    among other officials, meet with the interested parties to discuss the
    situation and formulate a project that will be mutually beneficial to all
    involved, Coyle said.

    “The goal should be that options could come back to the
    regents not for action but for their consideration for thinking about at the
    March regents meeting in San Francisco,”
    she said.

    The house, added to the National Register of Historic Places
    in November, is situated on a sacred American Indian burial ground dating back
    to almost 10,000 BC.

    The dispute over what to do with the house has centered on
    the desire of historians and American Indian groups to preserve the historical
    and cultural resources of the house and burial grounds.

    University officials have not viewed refurbishing the house
    as a feasible option.

    “The 2004 Work Group reports the university did show that
    renovation would be even cheaper than building a new structure,” Coyle said.
    “Either they or the donors just didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t a question of
    could they do it.”

    The university did consider the option, but deemed it very
    likely that once a remodel was initiated, additional structural problems would
    be identified and the construction cost could significantly exceed initial
    estimates, Davies said.

    LJHS board member Don Schmidt said the university’s proposed
    demolition would not be able to prevent damage to remains in the burial ground.

    All parties expressed optimism about the outcome of the
    scheduled dialogue in March.

    “[UCSD] students really need to know about [the house],”
    Schmidt said. “It is part of their heritage. It is part of their history. I
    just hope the university and the regents move forward on preserving the house
    and the site, and continuing the dialogue with the greater community.”

    Readers can contact Danielle Warren at [email protected].

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