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UCLA’s acquisitions, expansions during Chancellor Gene Block’s tenure

Throughout his 17 years as UCLA’s chancellor, Gene Block expanded the university’s reach into Los Angeles, providing new opportunities for the UCLA community. Block acquired new research facilities, student housing and medical centers, among other opportunities.
(Ashley Heeseon Choi/Graphics editor) Photo credit: Ashley Heeseon Choi

By Gabby Jamall

June 10, 2024 12:06 a.m.

Throughout his tenure, Chancellor Gene Block has expanded UCLA’s reach with numerous acquisitions that span beyond the hills of Westwood and into greater Los Angeles.

Block, who was in office for 17 years, replaced former interim Chancellor Norman Abrams, who had held the position since 2006. Block entered the office with goals centered around civic engagement, academic achievement and diversity, according to the Chancellor Office’s profile on him.

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was one of UCLA’s first acquisitions during Block’s tenure in June 2008, replacing the original UCLA Medical Center housed in the Center for the Health and Sciences.

The hospital is now a state-of-the-art medical facility, with its excellence seen in UCLA Health’s high-ranking status in both the city and state, said Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health Dr. John Mazziotta in an emailed statement. The medical center was ranked No. 1 in the nation and No. 12 in the world in 2024, according to Newsweek.

More recently, Block has also overseen UCLA Health’s purchase of the Olympia Medical Center, which has plans to become a fully operating neuropsychiatric hospital by 2026, and the West Hills Hospital acquisition this March.

[Related: UCLA Health to acquire West Hills Hospital and Medical Center]

Block also expanded the availability of university housing for undergraduate and graduate students. In 2022, UCLA became the first UC to guarantee housing for all undergraduate students for up to four years.

Weyburn Terrace Paseo and Weyburn Commons are single graduate housing apartments that opened spring 2013. In 2022, four more apartment complexes for undergraduates opened: Gayley Heights, Tipuana, Laurel and Palo Verde.

Housing projects have yielded benefits for students, creating affordable housing options and helping them integrate into campus life as well as life in Westwood through strategic location, said a UCLA Housing and Hospitality spokesperson in an emailed statement.

“These developments have significantly expanded the housing inventory, reduced housing shortages and provided students with high-quality living spaces that enhance their overall university experience.” they said in the emailed statement.

Over the course of Block’s tenure at UCLA, the amount of housing available for undergraduates has also increased by 77%, according to an emailed statement from UCLA Media Relations.

UCLA Housing said in its statement that Block’s leadership has been essential in achieving UCLA’s goals of guaranteed long-term housing for its student body and has earned the university a distinct reputation as an outstanding residential campus.

University acquisitions that work to increase housing accessibility and lessen the cost of living for UCLA students are crucial, said Michael Lens, a professor of urban planning and public policy.

“Any progress we make on making housing that is accessible to this campus possible and affordable for the student population is enormously important,” he said.

UCLA has also expanded its academic footprint during Block’s tenure.

The university acquired the UCLA Extension campus in downtown LA in June 2023. Real estate experts placed the acquisition’s value at around $40 million, according to an article by the LA Times. The acquisition of the extension campus also involved the purchase of the historic Trust Building to create a space for programs, administrative offices and research facilities for UCLA Extension.

The downtown Extension campus strengthens the university’s influence in the city and was the first step in a broader plan to expand development beyond the main campus, said Dean of Continuing Education and UCLA Extension Eric Bullard in an emailed statement.

Michael Manville, the chair of the Department of Urban Planning, said a presence in downtown LA serves the university and city by bringing students and researchers closer to people who benefit from the work done on campus.

In 2022, UCLA also established a South Bay campus in Rancho Palos Verdes with an $80 million acquisition of the former Marymount California University site.

The downtown Extension campus and South Bay campus are part of UCLA’s broader strategic plan for 2023 to 2028, which prioritizes the university’s engagement with the community, expanding its reach, and strengthening its research and creative capabilities, according to a university article on the plan.

“UCLA is strengthening its connection and commitment to Los Angeles through strategic acquisitions,” UCLA Media Relations said in an emailed statement. “These facilities will allow the university to increase the number of degrees awarded and expand research under the guidance of our recently adopted five-year strategic plan.”

One of the most recent acquisitions made as Block’s tenure ends was the purchase of the former Westside Pavillion mall in January. The acquisition of the property – now known as UCLA Research Park – was accomplished in part because of a $500 million California government investment.

[Related: UCLA set to acquire former Westside Pavilion mall]

Mazziotta said in the statement that the facility will serve as a research hub for biomedical and quantum physics research.

“It represents a substantial expansion of the campus footprint for research,” he said in the statement.

Other expansions under Block include the opening of the UCLA Community School in Koreatown in 2009 and the acquisition and repurposing of the Crest Theater in 2018, which now serves as the UCLA Nimoy Theater.

Manville said that as the university continues to grow its sphere of influence, one of the challenges it faces is how comparatively expensive real estate is in the city of LA and its surrounding areas.

“Any attempt by any institution in Los Angeles to expand its footprint pretty soon runs into a basic problem that it costs a lot of money,” he said. “That has both the direct costs, but also the opportunity cost, which is that, ‘Is there is a better investment the university could be making with that money than acquiring more land?’”

Lens added that certain zoning and land use laws might complicate the process of repurposing infrastructures to serve the university.

Mazziotta said in the statement that the acquisitions made under Block’s office have paved the way for UCLA to continue to grow in the future.

“They all provide a path to the future, just as the University of California’s expansion to LA did in 1919,” he said. “Success leads to growth and expansion and even more success.”

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