Friends of the Jackling House.org
December 6, 2004

By facsimile and mail
Ms. Hope Sullivan
Director of Planning and Building
Town of Woodside
P.O. Box 620005
Woodside, California 94062
Fax: (650) 851-2195

RE: Jackling Estate Demolition - Appeal Before Town Council

Dear Ms. Sullivan:

On behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Town Council's review of the proposed demolition of the Jackling House for construction of a single-family residence. Because the Environmental Impact Report does not include a complete project description, the Planning Commission's rejection of alternatives must be considered premature and unsubstantiated. The Trust is convinced that the Jackling House can be feasibly rehabilitated and returned to its original use as a residence, especially if the likely costs of the proposed project are taken into account.

The National Trust is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust provides leadership, education and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Its Washington, DC headquarters staff, six regional offices and 21 historic sites (including Woodside's Filoli) work with the Trust's 200,000 members and thousands of local community groups in all 50 states, including over 20,000 members in California alone. The Western Office of the Trust previously submitted written comments on the Draft EIR for this project on March 12, 2004 and testified before the Planning Commission at its hearing on June 2, 2004.

I. The Jackling House is a historic resource subject to protection under the California Environmental Quality Act

A key policy under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is the lead agency's duty to "take all action necessary to provide the people of this state with historic environmental qualities and preserve for future generations examples of major periods of California history." (PRC 21001 (b),(c).) CEQA "requires public agencies to deny approval of a project with significant adverse effects when feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures can substantially lessen such effects." (Sierra Club v. Gilroy City Council (1990) 222 Cal.App.3d 30, 41, italics added; also see PRC 21002, 21002.1.)

Designed in 1926 by renowned architect George Washington Smith, the EIR concludes that the Jackling House is eligible for the California Register of Historic Places as a notable example of the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and also for its association with Daniel C. Jackling, "the most important figure in the American copper industry of his day."(DEIR, 5.1-4) Despite ultimately approving demolition, the Planning Commission's findings recognize that the Jackling House qualifies as an historic resource under CEQA, and requires preparation of an EIR to evaluate the impacts of and alternatives to the proposed project. (CEQA Findings, June 16, 2004)

II. The EIR's project description lacks "specific details" necessary to evaluate the feasibility of alternatives to demolition

"An accurate, stable and finite project description is the sine qua non of an informative and legally sufficient EIR." County of Inyo v. City of Los Angeles (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 185. Accordingly, the EIR must contain a detailed description of the project being reviewed, including the physical development that will result if the project is approved. Guideline 15124.

The Draft EIR originally defined the project as demolition only ("Jackling Estate Demolition"), although new construction was clearly intended by the applicant. In response to comments on the Draft EIR, the Final EIR expanded the project definition to include both demolition and construction of a single-family residence, but did not describe the new house in any way. Although the EIR estimates the costs of alternatives ($4.9 to $9.0 million), it does not calculate total project costs, including demolition of the Jackling House and construction of an entirely new residence. Depending on the "specific characteristics" of the project, up to three alternatives in the EIR "might meet the objective of eventual construction of a single-family residence." (FEIR, 13.0-7) However, without a detailed description of the proposed project, there is no basis for weighing alternatives and evaluating their feasibility.

III. The Planning Commission's findings rejecting project alternatives as infeasible are not supported by substantial evidence

The findings of the lead agency must be supported by substantial evidence in the record: "[T]he requirement [of findings] ensures there is evidence of the public agency's actual consideration of alternatives and mitigation measures, and reveals to citizens the analytical process by which the public agency arrived at its decision." Mountain Lion Foundation v. Fish & Game Comm'n (1997) 16 Cal.4th 105, 134.

Despite having no information about project costs, the Planning Commission summarily concluded that rehabilitation alternatives were "economically unjustifiable." (CEQA Findings, June 16, 2004) Although economic factors are commonly used to determine feasibility under CEQA, the rationale for finding an alternative infeasible must be explained in the EIR. Laurel Heights Improvement Association v. Regents of the University of California (1988) 47 Cal.3d 376. Because the EIR fails to include costs or any "specific characteristics" of the proposed project, it is impossible to trace the "analytical process" followed by the Planning Commission in rejecting alternatives. As such, the Planning Commission's findings are not supported by substantial evidence and should be set aside.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on proposed demolition of the Jackling House. Please feel free to contact me at (415) 956-0610 or mike_buhler@nthp.org should you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Michael Buhler
Regional Attorney
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