The Poodle Snarls: Did Dormzilla Hoist Henry Yang by His Own Petard?
UCSB Chancellor Rumored to Have Pulled Plug on Charlie Munger’s Massive Dorm Project
OH, HENRY: It was while careening drunkenly down the mean streets of Goleta back in the ’70s that Henry Ford II — otherwise known as “Deuce” — was pulled over by the CHP and booked into the county jail. While there, the not-so-young-anymore heir to his family’s Ford auto empire spent a couple of hours behind bars, presumably to reflect on the error of his ways.
By that time, Ford had given America the Mustang, once a great car but now a caricature of its former self, though no more so than the Viagra head cases who insist on modifying their mufflers presumably to drown out the din of airplanes flying in and out of Santa Barbara’s airport. It was during this incident that Ford — who regularly told himself, “The king can do no wrong” while staring into the mirror — came up with the ultimate quote embraced by wannabe bad boys everywhere. “Never complain,” the Deuce reportedly said. “Never explain.”
The quote’s real inspiration, it turns out, was the presence of a much-younger woman, a former fashion model, in the car with Ford when the Deuce got his deuce. Ford was practicing what he’d say to his wife at the time, though — it turned out — she wouldn’t be for much longer.
I dredge all this up because Goleta’s second-most-famous Henry — UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang — has clearly embraced this pithy aphorism as the guiding principal for political conduct during his 29 years at the helm. Now 82, Yang is just a few months shy of being the longest-serving chancellor in the history of the UC system. Currently, he’s in second place, which means he has to try harder.
During Yang’s reign, he’s recoiled from Santa Barbara’s culture of interminable public meetings and stakeholder gatherings. Instead, he’s favored a more imperial, talk-to-the-hand variant of preemptive unilateralism when dealing with the community at large. When a 19-year-old UCSB student accused Yang last year of knocking him off his skateboard during an automotive bump-and-gun, the chancellor declined — upon the advice of counsel — to be interviewed by local cops or by the Highway Patrol. At the same time, Yang insisted — via the most minimalist of press releases — that he was fully cooperating with the investigation. While denying there ever was an incident to deny, Hit ’n’ Run Henry also acknowledged — via the same sublimely cryptic press release — the possibility that other perceived realities might exist. “The Chancellor wants to respect the skateboarder’s report of what they believe occurred.”
Never complain, never explain.
Same thing for the $128,000 raise Yang agreed to accept a year ago, bringing his total yearly salary to $579,750. You can be sure that grotesque largesse was a chicken bone in the throat of campus Teaching Assistants (TAs) when they went on strike earlier this year. UCSB TAs, it turns out, were among the most militantly opposed to the eventual settlement. That’s because Santa Barbara’s housing prices are among the worst. And for this, Yang bears significant responsibility. When Yang showed up on campus in 1994, there were no Nobel Laureates resting on their laurels. Today, there are six. When Yang showed up, there were 16,581 students enrolled; today, the number is more than 26,000.
What has Henry done about this? From a political, legal, and even moral standpoint, he’s been a day late and a dollar short. Relentlessly, consistently, and in the first degree. No wonder the City of Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara sued him. By the time the campus hit the enrollment mark of 25,000 students, Yang was legally obligated by a 2010 planning document to have built 5,000 units of undergrad housing and nearly 2,000 for faculty and staff. Rather than pursue a host of smaller housing projects long on the campus drawing board — that might actually get built — Yang instead went for “Dormzilla,” the 11-story so-called windowless dorm designed to accommodate 4,500 students. For years, these plans — hatched in secret with gazillionaire Charlie Munger, who promised to donate $150 million of the $1.5 billion it would cost to build — were the subject of hushed rumor only, like the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s body. Yang and the campus did nothing to prepare the community and even less to build support. When the proposal’s gargantuan enormity finally leaked out, mass apoplexy inevitably ensued. It smacked of a social engineering experiment only partially paid for by an aging billionaire blinded by his undeniable brilliance. Last year, the faculty senate, to which Yang has been exceptionally attentive over the years, issued a blistering 200-page dissection of the proposal — dubbed “Dormzilla” by the Independent’s Tyler Hayden — finding it seriously unsafe at almost any size for its inhabitants.
This week, I heard the project is dead. And from all the usual multiple unnamed sources, none of which is willing to go on the record. Was Yang available to talk about it? After 29 years, why even ask. What about other high-ranking campus administrators? Instead, Kiki Reyes, former KEYT news reporter and current campus media relations manager who helped Yang fashion his non-denial denials about the hit-and-run, wrote, “With regard to student housing and Munger Hall, the University has continued to work on the planning and consultation process with all the stakeholders.” When you figure out what that means, please let me know.
More immediately, the private development group — Greystar — approved by the Regents last year to begin construction as soon as this summer on UCSB’s 540-unit housing project for faculty and employees known as the Ocean Road project has pulled out. At this point, the campus has no developer willing to fill the breach, raising questions in some circles — why doesn’t the campus simply build the housing itself, much as UC Irvine does? Again, Henry’s talk-to-the-hand communication strategy leaves much to be desired and even more to the imagination. Speculation abounds as to why Greystar pulled out, much having to do with affordability requirements that housing advocates decried as too little and the developer as too much. Either way, that’s a lot of housing.
Is there a moral to this story? While Henry fiddled — chasing fantastical phantoms at the expense of housing that could actually have been built — our housing market has burned.
Never complain. Never explain.OH, HENRY:Henry Ford IIFord auto empirecaricature of its former selfNever complainNever explainpresence of a much-younger womanUCSB Chancellor Henry Yanglongest-serving chancellorinterminable public meetingstalk-to-the-hand variantautomotive bump-and-gunfully cooperatingsublimely cryptic press release$128,000 raiseTeaching Assistantsmilitantly opposedNobel Laureatesmore than 26,000a day late and a dollar short5,000 units of undergrad housingDormzillaCharlie Munger$1.5 billionmass apoplexysocial engineering experiment200-page dissectionTyler Haydenthe project is deadKiki ReyesGreystaOcean Road projectno developerbuild the housing itselfaffordability requirementsHenry fiddledhousing market has burned