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Plan to Refurbish Mansion Opposed by Reagan Backers

September 10, 1996|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The Stanford Mansion two blocks from the Capitol is not much to look at these days.

But Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature have big plans for the 140-year-old home once owned by Leland Stanford, the 19th-century railroad baron, governor and founder of Stanford University.

They want to refurbish the place and use it for state-sponsored receptions. The estimated cost: roughly $2.7 million.

But there's a problem. Ronald Zumbrun, founder of Pacific Legal Foundation and one of the nation's leading conservative lawyers, says the money the state wants to use has been earmarked for only one purpose--establishing an official residence for the governor of California.

"It's a breech of trust, and failure to honor promises," said Zumbrun, who is trying to block the plans.

Zumbrun has sent letters to various state officials demanding that the state stop its plan to refurbish the state-owned mansion, at least not with the disputed $2.7 million.

Under plans agreed to by Wilson and the Legislature as part of this year's state budget, governors would not live in the Stanford Mansion. Instead, the edifice--part of a state historic park--would be used for parties, receptions and other official affairs of the state.

"We're still trying to make sense of [Zumbrun's demand]," said Ken Colombini, spokesman for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages the 19,000-square-foot, four-story Stanford Mansion.

Zumbrun's involvement in the issue dates back to Ronald Reagan's tenure as governor. At Nancy Reagan's urging, Reagan's benefactors donated more than $1 million to buy 11 acres overlooking the American River in suburban Sacramento, and build a sprawling residence for Reagan and future governors.

The place was not completed until Reagan's tenure was over, however, and his successor, Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., refused to live there, opting instead for a more austere apartment across from the Capitol.

Gov. George Deukmejian wanted to move in. But the state Senate, led by Sen. Alfred Alquist (D-San Jose), blocked him from doing so. Alquist contended that the governor's residence should be in downtown Sacramento, not suburban Carmichael.

Unable to resolve the dispute, the state in 1983 sold the Reagan spread for $1.5 million to Southern California developer Matt Franich.

Zumbrun contends that the money from the sale went into a fund specifically for buying a governor's residence, and it can't be used for anything else.

But the Legislature and Deukmejian, and now Wilson, have never reconciled the issue of the chief executive's housing. So while Wilson, like Deukmejian before him, lives in rented housing, money from the sale has sat gathering interest, until this year when Alquist pushed to spend the money on refurbishing the Stanford Mansion.

Zumbrun doesn't much care what the state does with the Stanford Mansion, so long as officials don't use money specifically earmarked for a governor's residence.

Zumbrun represents the remnants of a group of 8,000 donors and friends of Reagan who bought the 11 acres outside Sacramento and built the mansion.

He also represents Franich, the man who bought the 11-acre spread on the American River. He said Franich still hopes that governors one day use the place as their residence.

Zumbrun said he is simply trying to uphold the wishes of the original donors, not to help Franich sell the residence to the state.

"The donors felt California is out of line with the nation in that we don't provide a residence for our governor, and that is an embarrassment for our state," Zumbrun said.

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