With state funding falling short, seismic needs mounting at UC

Tolman (above) and Campbell Halls are among the buildings on UC Berkeley’s campus that require retrofitting.
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Tolman (above) and Campbell Halls are among the buildings on UC Berkeley’s campus that require retrofitting.

With state funding for the University of California plummeting, the seismic repairs of buildings throughout the 10-campus system are being put on hold while UC officials hope that money materializes.

At UC Berkeley, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau ordered 13 classrooms at Tolman Hall shuttered while the campus looks for $202 million to replace the structure, rated  seismically “poor” in a 1997 study of campus buildings.

Officials at UC Davis plan to move all employees and students out of Walker Hall by the end of this year,  after the funding for retrofitting the building — also rated seismically “poor” — was denied this year by the state Legislature.

The efforts at Tolman and Walker Halls come at a crucial time in the University of California’s effort to seismically retrofit its buildings. Of the system’s buildings rated seismically “poor” or “very poor,” 15 percent are still in need of repair or replacement, according to a UC financial plan outlining construction needs over the next 10 years.

Of the 6.5 million square feet at UC Berkeley that need seismic mitigation of some sort, close to 30 percent remain uncorrected, according to the financial plan.  That includes 13 buildings at UC Berkeley slated for work in the next 10 years, including Tolman, Campbell, Lewis and Mulford Halls.

But state funds for capital needs — including seismic repair and accommodating for enrollment growth — have shriveled up in recent years, and university officials find themselves in a sort of limbo, unsure where funding will come from and when.

Most of the university’s capital needs in the last decade have been funded through general obligation bonds approved by voters, but a bond has not been put before voters since 2006, and funds have largely dried up. In 2007, the UC got $450 million in general obligation bond funds for capital needs — by 2009 that number had shrunk to around $31 million, and last year it was just short of $10 million.

In the absence of general obligation bonds, the UC has largely turned to lease-revenue bonds — bonds paid off from lease payments by state agencies using the facilities — to fund its capital program. The UC got $343 million in lease-revenue bonds for capital projects last year, though construction hasn’t begun on projects since the bonds haven’t been sold yet.

Of the $768 million in funding the university requested this year, it only received $45 million for two projects. Among the projects not granted bond funding were the replacement of Tolman Hall and the $26 million project to retrofit Walker Hall at UC Davis.

The university finds itself in a tough spot, said Patrick Lenz, the UC vice president for budget and capital resources. Voter-approved bond money has dried up, and the state — already saddled with debt — has been reluctant to issue new bonds, he said.

He added that without state money, the university would either have to cap and reduce enrollment or find ways to finance the capital projects itself, which he said is unlikely given the state’s declining support for the system.

“The third option is we would do nothing and let these facilities just sit. That would be the worst of all options,” Lenz said. “You haven’t addressed anything  about their condition — they are empty buildings, and they don’t serve any purpose.”

Lenz added that the university is supporting a bill in the state Legislature to place a bond on the ballot for 2012 that would provide $550 million to the UC per year for its capital needs. The bill is still in committee and would have to face a vote from the full Legislature before going on the ballot.

In the meantime, the university estimates that it will require more than $1 billion per year over the next five years to address its most pressing facilities needs, according to the financial plan.

And even if the money does come through, there is still the question of where it will go within the UC system.

Younger campuses like UC Merced and UC Riverside need new buildings to house growing enrollment. Older campuses like UCLA and UC Berkeley require money for seismic repair — these two campuses account for approximately 76 percent of the space remaining to be corrected within the system, according to the same financial plan.

“If you look at the what the university’s capital needs are, clearly we have seismic problems, growth too, infrastructure problems, and capital renewal,” said Edward Denton, UC Berkeley vice chancellor for facilities services. “All of those things are competing for capital money.”

Turning to donors isn’t a viable option for funding these projects either, said Catherine Koshland, UC Berkeley vice provost of teaching, learning, academic planning and facilities.

Most donors want to give to specific programmatic needs at individual departments or sports programs. They view seismic repairs as a state responsibility, she added.

Until state funding picks up again, the campus will have to triage seismic needs as they have with Tolman.

“It is a sign demonstrating a lack of concern about educating the young in California. I find  that very discouraging,” Denton said. “That is going to come back and hurt us not tomorrow but years from tomorrow.”

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • Guest

    “seismic needs mounting at UC”
    This headline implies that earthquake risk on campus is increasing.  Not so.  New buildings are all constructed to a high structural standard.  Many older buildings have been reinforced or demolished.  The remaining buildings are no more risky now than when they were built.  Earthquake risk overall has decreased since the campus began its program of seismic corrections.

  • Anonymous

    Move UCB to Merced and play the football games in Memorial.

  • Anonymous

    Like any addiction,
    admitting you have a problem is the first step toward correcting it. University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau
    ($500,000 salary) has forgotten he is a public servant, steward of the public money,
    not overseer of his own fiefdom.

    fee increases exceed national average rate of increase.      

    (using California tax $) out of state, foreign
    $50,600 students who displace qualified sons, daughters of Californians from Cal.

    $7,000,000 + for consultants to do his & vice chancellors work      

    (Prominent East Coast
    University accomplishing same 0 cost).

    University accrues $150 million of
    inefficiencies over his 8 year reign.

    Pays: ex Michigan governor
    $300,000 for lectures.

    In procuring $3,000,000 consultant failed
    to receive proposals from other firms.

    enrollment drops out of state jump 2010(M Krupnick Contra Costa Times)

    Best in nation rank: # 70 Forbes

    Academic rank: QS academic falls below top ten.

    Tuition to
    Return on Investment drops below top 10.

    Cal most expensive USA
    public university

    NCAA: absence
    senior management oversight, basketball program on probation.


    are not isolated examples: it’s all shameful. There is no justification for
    such irregularities by a steward of the public trust. Absolutely none. 


    Birgeneau’s spend thrift practices
    will not change. University of California Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing
    must do a better job of vigorously enforcing financial oversight of Birgeneau
    who treat’s Cal.
    as his fiefdom. Only then will confidence of Alumni, donors begin to improve.


    agenda is transparency. I have 35 years’ consulting experience; have taught at
    UC Berkeley, where I observed the culture & the way senior management works.
    No, I was not fired or downsized & have not solicited contracts from UC/Cal.


  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile UC Memorial Stadium is undergoing a 1.3 Billion Dollar seismic safety retrofit, thanks to UC Regents.    But then, the stadium retrofit is not a guarantee against loss of life because the Stadium sits right on top of the most dangerous fault in California.

    UC Regents really understand priorities.

    • Guest

      “thanks to UC Regents”
      The Regents aren’t funding the project.  They merely gave the athletics program permission to seek private donations.

  • Bronwen Rowlands

    Unbelievable.  No mention in this piece of the human beings who are being “triaged” in Tolman. Classrooms are closed and student groups moved to protect students, but staff–those who spend the most time in the building and are therefore at the highest risk–are left to fend for themselves:

    • If you hate working at UC so much, why don’t you look for a job in the private sector?


      • Guest

        How many private-sector corporations have spent a nickel on seismic corrections?

        • Then go live in a cabin in Montana if you are so worried about earthquake safety

      • Seer of Things

        I must have missed that part of her post.  Certainly you’re aware that a person can like his job but not be uncritically enthusiastic about everything his employers do?

        • Guest

          I think she was accusing UC of treating staff as expendable and unworthy of consideration.  It isn’t true, but it could certainly be grounds for job dissatisfaction.  On the other hand, there are very few employers who make any effort at all to protect people from earthquake hazards.

    • Guest

      “are therefore at the highest risk”
      Okay, then why don’t you circulate a staff petition to close the School of Education until the State funds the Tolman project?

  • Seer of Things

    So our buildings are all falling down, but hey–new stadium!  What a relief to know that although we’ll have to build temporary aluminum shacks for classes, athletes will have a luxurious facility to shower in.

    • Worker

      Private donors give money to things that are effective and valuable. They’ve given a half-dozen science buildings, the stadium and a library. But they don’t seem to want to build a new School of Education.

      Sounds to me like donior priorities are about right.

      Of course, you’re welcome to go earn some money & give a building. Maybe you should vet on that?

      • Seer of Things

        Very nice, except for the fact that “doniors” haven’t given enough money for the Stadium boondoggle.  We’re still in the hole on that one as of right now.

      • Seer of Things

        Also : Let’s not confuse the issue by assuming that the for-profit model is going to be an effective way to run a state institution.  That’s just a retarded idea.

  • guest

    Apparently it is easier to get donors to pony up $150 million to build a sports facility that will only be used by @400 students per year than that it is to get donations to repair existing buildings. Many of these deteriorating buildings serve much greater numbers of students, UC employees and even the general public. I guess it’s sexier to have a new building named after you than to be known for saving an existing building, but I think it also goes a long way in explaining how misplaced our priorities are.