CSUF housing authority and faculty come to agreement on University Heights

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Doug Chaffee, who became Fullerton's mayor, honored his predecessor, Councilmember Bruce Whitaker, and his wife, Linda. BRIAN CHESTER / Daily Titan
Doug Chaffee, who became Fullerton’s mayor, honored his predecessor, Councilmember Bruce Whitaker, and his wife, Linda.

Fullerton City Council members unanimously approved a request from the Cal State Fullerton Housing Authority to amend the University Heights Specific Plan Tuesday, nullifying the restriction that home ownership in the community is reserved to CSUF faculty and staff.

Fifteen faculty members currently own homes in University Heights, a 42-townhome property approved by the council in 2005 and completed in 2008. Renters occupy the remaining 27 residences.

The agreement ends months of negotiation between the housing authority and residents. All 15 homeowners signed letters of unconditional support to amend the plan.

“There’s a great thing that happened this evening, and there’s been a mutual disagreement throughout the thing so I don’t want to throw stones anywhere,” said Frank Mumford, executive director of both CSUF Auxiliary Services Corp. (ASC) and the housing authority.

Mumford said in May that demand among professors to buy property at University Heights was low.

In May, the Orange County Register reported that the university was negotiating with a private company to sell off the property. At that time, the housing authority had $15.2 million in debt as a result of being unable to sell homes, and it projected a $732,471 loss for 2013.

Marcia Clark, a University Heights homeowner and full-time lecturer with the finance department, said the agreement the two sides reached was imperfect, but acceptable.

“Future residents of University Heights will be happy to live there under these agreements, even if we choose not to,” she said.

Clark said the city council helped persuade the housing authority to add conditions to their agreement with homeowners, which satisfied them enough to give their unconditional support.

She thanked the council for its involvement in the negotiations.

Gulhan Bourget, an associate professor of mathematics and a University Heights homeowner, said faculty demand for homes there was greater than what the university had claimed.

She said she knew at least three faculty members who wanted to own houses at University Heights, but the university declined to make a deal with them at that time.

Bourget was skeptical of the amendment to the specific plan. She expressed concern regarding the buyer interested in University Heights.

Mumford called the company a “family corporation” that owns multiple properties in California and Arizona.

Bourget said homeowners have not received any information about what she called the “mystery buyer.”

“Maybe we will like the buyer better than the university; maybe they will be a better manager,” she said. “But we don’t know.”

In addition to leasing the 27 properties, the buyer has expressed an interest in buying homes, if the current homeowners are willing to sell, Mumford said.

“They’re very used to working in this kind of an environment, something that we don’t do probably as well,” Mumford said.

The two sides in the dispute have aired their concerns to the council at multiple meetings, unable to come to a mutual agreement until Tuesday.

During the Nov. 5 meeting, professors told the council that the housing authority was sending them revised housing agreements, but not providing enough time to review them before they signed.

“There’s some validity to that, but a lot was caused by the fact that we didn’t get information we needed from them,” Mumford said. “So it’s on both sides.”

Clark said about half the homeowners plan to stay at University Heights, while the other half, including her, intend to move.

As for the housing authority, Mumford said it would probably merge with ASC, because the university does not plan to take on a new housing project in the near future.

The housing authority will continue to operate University Gables, an 86-home neighborhood in Buena Park near the Los Coyotes Golf Course.

Mumford said University Gables has worked as intended from the very beginning.

He called University Gables “the perfect project,” contrasting it with “the perfect storm,” University Heights, which was beset by numerous problems, such as the housing crisis and rising costs.

House prices increased beyond what a new faculty member could afford, and the project did not meet the needs of the university or the housing authority, Mumford said.

The council also elected a new mayor and mayor pro tem, in accordance with the city’s policy to reorganize those positions every December. In a 3-2 vote, they chose Doug Chaffee over Greg Sebourn to become the new mayor, then unanimously voted for Sebourn as mayor pro tem.

“I’d like to thank the council members for honoring me and entrusting me with the awesome job of mayor of the city of Fullerton,” Chaffee said. “So, thank you for that, even if I was the swing vote.”

Chaffee said he would establish a theme for the year ahead: “Fullerton: a fabulous city to live, to work and to enjoy.”

Councilwoman Jan Flory concluded the meeting with a moment of silence to remember Fullerton Mayor Bob Ward, who served two terms as mayor in the 1970s and died a week and a half ago.

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