Right after our mayor and two council members were sworn in on 18 December 2012, yet another quintessential part of Coronado died. The true facts shine a light on the link between how (1) our village atmosphere is vanishing rapidly, and (2) in their discretion city officials circumvent our historic resource code and intentionally erect obstacles to historic preservation. For an in-depth analysis, go to www.dailycoronado.com.
In brief, council agenda item 8a on 18 December 2012 was an appeal of the Historic Resource Commission (HRC) decision of 7 November 2012 regarding the historic home at 1114 G Avenue. The 4-1 council decision – with myself dissenting – resulted in a beautiful, unaltered, two-story, 98-year-old Craftsman home being deemed unworthy of preservation by our four council members. Their decision paved the way for demolition of this historic home because at least three council votes were required to save it from destruction.
I voted as I did because the relevant facts dictated preservation under Coronado Municipal Code 84.10.010 et seq., which is our local historic preservation law. As law, our historic preservation code isn’t a mere “option” that we can choose to ignore at whim. Only after researching all the facts and taking into consideration all the evidence did I vote against destroying this house.
If you’re watching council meetings, you’ll notice that I’m calm and focused on two things – the facts and the law – before I cast my votes. I have no financial, political or other personal interest in destroying historic homes. I’m not beholden to outside interests who seek profit through scraping and over-building on our lots.
In reality, 1114 G checked four out of the five historic criteria boxes in our city code, even though only 2 criteria were necessary for us to designate it an historic home. This was such a clear-cut case for historic preservation that it defies logic and reason to claim otherwise.
The out-of-state developer – this one located in Phoenix – who targeted this historic gem will receive a city permit to demolish it. This looks like another case of non-resident “speculation development” upon local historic homes that plagues our town with over-development while simultaneously destroying our village atmosphere and local history. We have no way of knowing what will be built in its place and how severely the new structure will impose on the privacy, light, air, and space of surrounding neighbors, nor how costly it will be for Coronado taxpayers to maintain and repair our over-stressed city infrastructure as a result of the future overdevelopment of this lot.
The 1114 G appeal was riddled with many problems caused by the discretionary actions of city officials and others which all combined to severely prejudice the appellants who, lacking a personal financial interest in the matter, sought to save the home. Here are seven highlights in a longer list of troubling red flags that tipped the scales in favor of demolishing the home:
First, in their discretion a council majority interpreted the underlying 2-1 HRC decision in a way that favors destroying the home instead of preserving it. According to our city, a unanimous vote of the three commissioners on the dais was needed to declare the home historic; yet only one negative vote could cause the home to be demolished. Recently retired commissioner and past HRC chair Laura Crenshaw made this point eloquently during the appeal.
Second, in their discretion a council majority denied the request of the commissioner who cast the one dissenting vote in the underlying decision to send the matter back to the HRC, while preserving the right to appeal. Incorrect advice from our city attorney enabled the council majority’s discretionary denial.
Third, by ignoring proper instruction to step out of the room because she was required to disqualify herself from the underlying decision for owning property near 1114 G, the current HRC chair put herself at risk of being disciplined and fined by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Her inappropriate behavior was another reason to exercise council discretion by sending the matter back to the HRC so it could be re-heard properly, while preserving the right of appeal.
Fourth, our city took resident Martha Jordan’s $500 fee and scheduled her appeal without her input for a time when she was required to be out of state. Then, in their discretion, a council majority denied Ms. Jordan her opportunity to be heard after she reasonably requested a continuance of her appeal for good cause. There exists no ironclad mandate on the timing of HRC appeals before council. In addition to harming Ms. Jordan, city officials’ combined discretionary actions have a “chilling effect” on all residents’ right to be heard before council in the future.
Fifth, in his discretion as chair of the council meeting, the mayor refused to allow resident Shannon Player to stand in for Ms. Jordan at appellant Jordan’s request. This relegated Ms. Player to speaking only for 3 minutes on this serious, complex matter and prevented her from completing her full public statement. Also as a result of the mayor’s discretionary action, Ms. Player was denied the opportunity to answer questions in Ms. Jordan’s place.
Sixth, in his discretion the mayor prevented resident Tom Dawson, who joined Ms. Jordan as an appellant, to speak at the podium in order to correct the misstatements of those who sought to destroy 1114 G, which was the Dawson family home. The mayor’s discretionary silencing of Mr. Dawson was extremely prejudicial because it stacked the deck against those who sought to save the historic home, and tipped the scale in favor of the non-resident developer and others who sought to demolish the home for profit.
Seventh, Coronado has no mechanism to save the historic trees on the property at 1114 G. As explained by Ms. Player, who is also a member of our Tree Committee, these trees are over a hundred years old and should be preserved along with the historic home under our code.
There are more red flags associated with this matter, but the above seven points are some of the highlights.
Furthermore, the written and verbal evidence presented on appeal by Ms. Player, Ms. Jordan in absentia, Mr. Dawson, and Ms. Crenshaw was persuasive. Their service to the historic preservation of our island is commendable. They proved that 1114 G is exactly the type of house that is meant to be preserved by our historic resource code.
In stark contrast, the statements of a self-interested local architect, a former city council member with a consistent public voting record against historic preservation, and a self-described manager of 1114 G didn’t pass muster. While making emotional pleas and silly accusations against others to advance their goal of demolition, they supplied information that wasn’t persuasive, relevant, or true. In particular, the local architect and former council member provided a mangled interpretation of our historic resource code that was unreasonable, biased, and inaccurate.
As one example, the architect sought to misinform us that there were “many” similar two-story Craftsmen homes in Coronado in an attempt to say that 1114 G was nothing special. However, the photos she presented on appeal either weren’t homes of the Craftsman style or were homes that had been significantly altered. Under our historic preservation code, it’s irrelevant whether or not there are other two-story Craftsman homes in Coronado when determining the issue of historic preservation of this particular home.
In reality, in Coronado there is no other such unaltered, two-story, nearly 100 year old Craftsman home like 1114 G. The fact is that it’s a rare jewel that clearly is protected under our local law.
There is likely no other California city that would allow demolition of a house like 1114 G. Not in San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Los Angeles, Pasadena, South Pasadena ... the list goes on. Coronado is unusual because in order to destroy historic homes, our city aggressively violates our historic preservation law and takes bold discretionary actions to stack the deck against historic preservation.
Historic preservation is important for the economic health of our island. University of San Diego economics professor and Equinox Foundation expert advisor Andrew Narwold has shown irrefutable evidence that a large inventory of historic homes has positive, long-term economic consequences for our city. In his widely publicized 2008 journal article, he demonstrated that historic homes have a “halo effect” that elevates citywide property values which in turn increase our city’s property tax revenue as well as our sales tax revenue through heritage tourism. Based on undeniable evidence easily available to us, it’s patently obvious that destroying historic homes harms our city.
It’s difficult to be an historic preservationist in our town, especially as a member of city council. Nonetheless, I’m proud of my unblemished voting record on historic preservation, as well as other ways to preserve our village atmosphere and curb overdevelopment.
Sadly, if our city continues on its current anti-preservation course, future generations will inherit a town that is radically different from – and substantially less than – the unique island we once knew and loved and on which residents were fortunate to live and raise their families.