The following editorial, “Court of Appeal should allow UCLA’s sale of Hannah Carter Japanese Garden,” appeared on Sept. 22 in The Daily Bruin, UCLA’s newspaper.
Legacies can be tricky. The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden and residence stands as the legacy of Edward Carter, formerly a UC Board of Regents chairman and a UCLA alumnus. In 1965, he entrusted the property to UCLA in perpetuity.
Amid murky fiscal waters, UCLA sought to sell the property, but was met by opposition from the Carter family, who filed a lawsuit to halt the sale last year. Earlier this month, the California Court of Appeal upheld a July 2012 decision to halt the sale after UCLA appealed the case.
While legacies hold strong emotional resonance, financial pragmatism is a necessity for the university. Edward Carter’s memory would best be served by allowing UCLA to sell the garden and residence in order to preserve its academic mission.
The garden is priced at $5.7 million and the residence is valued at $9 million. The sum of these sales could provide much needed funding to improve undergraduate education and to bolster faculty retention.
The alternative to the sale is bleak. The university would pour money into what has become a costly burden.
With a scant 2,000 visitors a year, limited parking, restricted hours and maintenance and staffing costs that reach $139,000 a year, it’s hard to argue that the garden serves as much more than a beautifully kept secret in the lush Bel Air hills.
Legally, the Carters’ argument is sound. In 1982, UCLA agreed to maintain the garden in perpetuity though they would be allowed to sell the residence.
UCLA’s stance depends on whether the courts will view the property as a charitable donation to the university, which would give them leeway to reinterpret the conditions on which the garden could be sold. The Carter family alleges that since the original agreement was negotiated upon twice, in 1982 and again in 1999, the university should view it simply as a contract it must fulfill.
Given that the agreement to maintain the garden indefinitely was agreed upon three decades ago, it would benefit everyone involved to allow Carter’s legacy to evolve with the times.
So far, the university has acted in good faith with money acquired from its assets. The Trisonic Wind Tunnel, which was put on sale around the same time as the garden, sold for $5.8 million this summer. Proceeds are helping build a new engineering building.
The university also put Mays’ Landing, a house in Malibu, for sale in 2012 and specifically earmarked the funds from those sales for the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, as well as professorships in honor of the property’s original owners.
The garden is an important historical artifact and deserves to be treated as such. Every effort should be made to find a buyer that would keep the garden intact.
But if the Carter family’s intent is that the university should forever foot the bill for this resource-draining property, the group that ultimately loses out are the students and faculty of the university.
There are many precedents in other universities of using “donated” properties to serve the educational mission. The property is not distant from the university and could be used as a research, language and/or teaching residence for visiting fellowship students, scholars or researchers in asian, language studies, international relations or even landscape architecture. The Green and Green house in Pasadena is a local example of how a property can be used to an advantage and be marketed to generate its own income. UCLA is not being creative in its use of a unique and valuable property as an educational tool.
Or, the Regents could do the right thing, and return the “resource-draining property” to the Carter family, if UCLA doesn’t want it. That would be the really right thing if they don’t want it. The garden is not the gift of a sweater that is the wrong color and needs to be exchanged. Simple solution. Return it. There are other heirs.