Today brings news of a major legal victory for historic preservationists in their effort to preserve the historic Jackling House, currently owned by Steve Jobs. For over a year, Jobs’ has inveigled to circumvent California preservation ordinances which call for significant attempts to preserve historic homes before demolishing them. Jobs proposed demolishing the home to replace it with a newly constructed residence.
First, the Superior Court ruled unequivocally that he had not exhausted such efforts (actually, that he hadn’t even pursued any such remedies). Here’s how UOH’s attorney, Douglas Carstens characterized the victory:
January 2006 Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner decided unequivocally in favor of Uphold our Heritage. Judge Weiner found Mr. Jobs and the Town Council had sought to evade required provisions under the California Environmental Quality Act. Judge Weiner concluded that there was not evidence to support a finding that there were no feasible alternatives to demolishing this historic resource.
After losing the first round, instead of negotiating in good faith with the three serious offers from potential buyers, Jobs chose to appeal to the Court of Appeals.
Today, this Court ruled unanimously that Jobs hadn’t a legal leg to stand on. Again, UOH’s attorney said:
The Court of Appeal upheld the mandate of the California Environmental Quality Act that projects with significant adverse impacts must be denied if there are feasible alternatives.
The San Francisco Chronicle story covering the ruling characterized one portion of the ruling of the three judge court:
The court cited estimates by the town’s Planning Commission staff that the house would cost $4.9 million to rehabilitate and another $4.1 million to add living quarters, office space and a fitness area. Jobs’ estimate was higher, but he failed to provide any information about the cost of building his proposed new home on the site, the court said.
Without that information, “it is not possible to determine whether the cost of renovating the existing historic structure is reasonable or feasible,” Justice Stuart Pollak said.
Although Jobs can’t be forced to restore the mansion, Pollak said, the town can’t allow him to tear down the historic structure as long as preservation remains a realistic alternative.
Reading between the lines, I’m wondering whether Judge Pollak is saying that if Jobs has presented a realistic cost for his new dream house that it would’ve been a multiple (given the enormous sums spent by the high tech Mr. Blandings when they build their dream houses) of the $9-million proposed cost of restoring Jackling House. Thus, the court would’ve been able to say to Jobs that restoring Jackling House is NOT infeasible compared to the cost of building his new dream house. Since Jobs didn’t present this cost to them, they have no way of judging whether $9 million is a reasonable number or not.
I don’t yet have the actual written ruling. But when I do I will quote it here.
A sweet victory. Jackling House is saved. So California justice has thankfully ruled that celebrities and the God awful powerful are subject to the same laws as you or I. Now, let’s hope that the Justice Department will take a page from California justice and not deem a popular high tech CEO above the law regarding his backdating of company stock options.
Mr. Jobs, a piece of unsolicited advice, there are three serious offers on the table. Instead of appealing this all the way to the State Supreme Court, see reason and sit down and talk with the three potential buyers. We’ve had enough of the noblesse oblige approach. Try abiding by the law and making a good faith effort to preserve the House. If you can satisfy the preservationists with a proposal to move Jackling to a satisfactory alternate site, you might still get to building your dream house. But you don’t get to back out of your obligation to preserve a valuable architectural legacy.