As Yogi Berra said, “”This is like deja vu all over again.” The Council has once again approved the demolition of the historic Jackling House. It looks like Steve Jobs may finally, many years later than he wanted, be able to knock down his 17,000 square foot historical residence and build a modern, 6,000 square foot replacement.
COW town has received a lot of local and national media attention these past few weeks, on the question of the whether to permit the demolition of the Jackling House – a house built by architect George Washington Smith for 1920’s copper magnate Daniel Jackling, and owned since 1984 by Apple’s Steve Jobs. Most COWs probably know that Steve lived in the House back when he first bought it and later rented it out. In recent years, it has been vacant and appears to be in a state of significant disrepair. See pictures of the Jackling House here. Our COWncil approved demolition in 2004 but a successful lawsuit invalidated that approval. (See here for our last article with links to older stories.)
The past two COWncil sessions have been devoted to whether or not to issue a permit in light of Steve’s revised application. The first meeting ran almost until midnight, and this most recent ran for several more hours. You can see these sessions on MOOtube. These hearings were a fascinating demonstration of how two groups, totally opposed on an issue, see the situation from such completely opposite perspectives. However, we were pleased to see that both sides had full opportunity to express their views.
Preservationists argued that the House had strong historical value and needed to be saved. It was suggested that it would be reasonable for the COWncil to somehow compel Jobs to put five million dollars in escrow to pay for the removal and partial restoration. Others believe that private property rights trump the COWmunity rights, and that the owner has every right to do what he wants with his property. And, of course, there were the legal arguments over interpretations of legal rulings and what the Town could or couldn’t do, what it must or mustn’t do, and what it should and shouldn’t do. The proceedings resembled a circus at times. Widely varying cost estimates flew back and forth for removal and restoration. The opinion of a Stanford earthquake predictor was given that the House was built in a dangerous location right near the San Andreas Fault and couldn’t be left where it was – contrasting with the History Committee member who said that the “only choice” was to restore the House in place. The Art Deco Society of America weighed in, despite the fact that the House is not Art Deco. The suggestion was even made that the Town should allow the new house to co-exist on the lot with non-conforming 17,000 square foot house.
In the end, after five years of lawsuits, six hours of arguing, and more than a four-inch-high stack of documents, it came down to a 6-1 vote, directing staff to bring back for final action which will be voted on at the June 9th COWncil meeting. Mayor Mason, alone, did not vote for the demolition. COWncilmember Caroll Ann Hodges seemed on the fence, but since this was not the final vote, she added her ‘aye.’ The demolition permit is to include requirements for salvage of “historical elements” and a thorough photographic record being of the House, as well as a requirement that the new house built on the site be less than 10,000 square feet. We can only hope there are no more costly lawsuits in this difficult budget time.
We at COW have not stated an opinion on whether or not the demolition permit should be granted. The focus of our concern has been with the process. It is important to us that the COWncil conduct a fair hearing and that their conclusions be based on evidence rather than the identity of the applicant. The median house age is around 47 years. Since any structure 50 years old or more is potentially historic, the standards that apply to all other COWs should apply to Steve Jobs and the standards applied to Steve Jobs should apply to all COWs. The COWncil decisions must always be consistent with the facts and enough facts need to be on the record to enable the COWncil to make a fair decision. Hopefully, this time they did it correctly.