Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - September 9, 2011

Losing a bit of our heritage

The city of Pleasanton has a problem when it comes to old houses and trees. There aren't many of them and often neither is worth saving when age and deterioration take their toll. Members of the Planning Commission and City Council, along with scores of interested individuals and organizations bent on preserving historic buildings and trees, also took their toll in the long hours of public hearings and discussions over what to do with a 1908 bungalow on a 1.2-acre site at 4189 Old Stanley Blvd. and two Douglas fir trees at the front of the property and about the same age.

Last Tuesday, after reviewing several hundred pages of reports from city planners, developers, the city arborist, traffic engineers and neighbors along Old Stanley, the City Council ended a debate that began two years ago. In a 3-2 vote near the midnight hour, Donato Builders Inc. won its request to tear it all down and build 13 "affordable" cluster homes on the site. The new homes, ranging in floor space from 1,599 to 1,920 square feet, will be served by a private street off Stanley, and will have garages and guest parking. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, who supported the project, said the single family houses will add to the limited number of smaller homes in Pleasanton. Their size in a location within walking distance of downtown should have special appeal to younger couples who find they are priced out of mainstream Pleasanton.

If there was a time to save the old and vacant Craftsman-style house and the trees, it was long ago. Building inspectors said the house had deteriorated to a point where it would be too costly to restore except by a dedicated, well-financed preservationist. Mike Fulford, the city's landscaper, said the old trees were "topped" years ago in a way that left them mutilated. In recent years, large branches have fallen onto the roadway and other lots, including that of Window-ology, a retail business next door whose owner said some damage had already occurred. Councilman Matt Sullivan, who voted against the project, said it was not in his heart to tear down an old house -- or old houses -- in Pleasanton.

We agree. A look at the stately Victorians and other old-style homes on Second and Third street show how elegant, aging but well-maintained homes can be. Sullivan suggests creating a policy to make sure aging homes are adequately maintained. Other cities have these kinds of laws but despite efforts by former City Planner Wayne Rasmussen to write such an ordinance 10 years ago, nothing has changed. In Livermore, 50-year-old trees can't be removed; in Pleasanton, they can. In many cities, well-preserved older homes and properties are considered heritage buildings, and some even have plaques recognizing their value. Pleasanton has none. Even the aging Pleasanton Hotel, which is showing serious wear and tear, could be removed although it is likely city authorities would try hard to prevent that. Bud Collier invested more than $1 million of his own money to restore the Kolln Hardware store building because he wanted to preserve its architectural importance on Main Street.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Linda Garbarino, who with Bonnie Krichbaum has organized the Pleasanton Heritage Association, threw up her hands in exasperation as she found Hosterman and council members Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Jerry Thorne moving toward approving the new development. Councilwoman Cindy McGovern also voted against the project but more because she felt the 13 new homes were being crammed into a lot too small, and too close to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks for those who will live there.

Garbarino cited a report by Matthew Davis at the state's Resources Agency who said the 1908 bungalow "despite its non-original cladding, retains integrity of feeling and association because it continues to convey a sense of early 20th century residential construction in the Pleasanton area."

Let's hope that Sullivan and the Heritage Association can garner support to revisit Wayne Rasmussen's vision of a heritage ordinance that would recognize and save the few older buildings we have in Pleasanton before they're all gone.

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