This article was written by Mike Luery and was originally published on CBS 13. The original article can be found here: On The Money: Fantasy Island
MOOREA, French Polynesia (CBS13) ―
The University of California is facing a huge deficit – yet owns properties around the globe worth millions of dollars – including one facility on a tropical paradise in a place some are calling “Fantasy Island”.
The tropical island in the South Pacific is called Moorea and it’s located just minutes from the main island of Tahiti (see animated map here).
Moorea is a hidden paradise where couples come to honeymoon in huts over the blue waters of the Pacific, at rates as high as $1000 a night. While it may be a fantasy for some, in reality it’s also home to the University of California, which owns a little-known property on Moorea known as Gump Station.
The Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station is a 35 acre facility in the middle of French Polynesia. CBS 13 hired a Tahitian photographer to bring you the exclusive video of the UC property, now worth an estimated $3.6 million.
“They should sell that property and bring it back to the schools,” said Ariana Hosseini, a junior at UC Davis. Hosseini added, “They should stop laying off our teachers and our professors and cutting classes so that we can’t graduate on time because we can’t take our classes and – help us with that.”
Tuition has jumped 32% in two years at UC campuses across the state. Students must now shell out more than $10,000 a year for school.
“I think it’s not smart that they’re raising our tuition.” Katrina Ghariri told CBS 13. The UC Davis sophomore stated, “They have like all this other stuff that we could be using this money, instead of putting so much financial burden on us.”
But the University defends the tropical lab, saying the scientific research there has been instrumental in saving California’s multi-billion dollar wine industry from an agricultural pest. UC officials say Gump Station is producing cutting edge research on climate change – and that selling it would provide only one-time revenue – that wouldn’t even make a dent in the University’s $1.2 billion deficit.
As UC’s Budget Vice President Patrick Lenz put it, “The value of the research far outweighs any position we would take on selling the property at this particular point in time.”
But the University does allow visiting professors to stay in the facility’s waterfront bungalows for as little as $41 a night.
“That’s a very big subsidy, Lenz admitted. “But again we’re not talking about the luxurious hotels that charge the $900 a night,” Lenz added.
But the subsidy is a surprise to UC Davis economics professor Gregory Clark, who says the University could make money by charging full market value for the rooms.
“I think that particularly since it’s not being advertised to the faculty that these rates are available, that we should absolutely do what we can to maximize the return on these kinds of investments,” Clark told CBS 13.
But California State Senator Jeff Denham was more direct.
“I think it’s outrageous,” the Republican from Merced told CBS 13. “We continue to see fee hikes and these crazy unjustified properties that anybody would love to have but we just can’t afford,” said Denham.
Legislators like Denham say they’ll be putting a lot more pressure on UC.
“We’re going to continue to go around the state and investigate all these pieces of property and we’re going to turn up the heat on the UC system,” Denham said.
CBS 13 has learned the University of California also owns a multi-million dollar facility in Mexico – along with some very pricey properties in California. Critics say those properties could be sold to help offset student fee hikes.