A Superior Court decision prohibiting Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs from demolishing an historic mansion in Woodside has been upheld by an appellate court. The court rejected the Town of Woodside’s conclusion that repairing or adding onto the house were economically infeasible project alternatives to demolition and replacement.
The alternatives would cost an estimated $4.9 million to $10 million. However, there was no context for those expenses because no information was provided about Jobs’ ultimate project — construction of a new 6,000-square-foot residence.
“As noted by the trial court, the feasibility of the alternatives must be evaluated within the context of the proposed project,” Justice Stuart Pollak wrote for the First District Court of Appeal. “‘The fact that an alternative may be more expensive or less profitable is not sufficient to show that the alternative is financially infeasible,’” Pollak continued, citing Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors, (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1167, 1181. “‘What is required is evidence that the additional costs or lost profitability are sufficiently severe as to render it impractical to proceed with the project.’”
The structure at issue is known as the Jackling House, a 17,250-square-foot, 14-bedroom mansion built during the Roaring ’20s by copper baron Daniel Jackling. George Washington Smith, a leading architect in the Spanish colonial revival style, designed the house, which contains many unique copper fixtures.
Jobs purchased the house in 1984 and lived in it for 10 years. He then rented it out for several years. It has sat vacant since 2000. Seven years ago, Jobs applied to the Town of Woodside for a demolition permit because he hoped to replace the mansion with a new house on the six-acre lot. An environmental impact report listed five alternatives: no project, historic rehabilitation, historic rehabilitation with a new addition, on-site relocation and rehabilitation, or off-site relocation and rehabilitation.
Town staff members recommended denial of the application, but the Planning Commission approved it. A group of preservationists called Uphold Our Heritage appealed to the Town Council, which also approved the project. The council found that none of the alternatives was feasible, and the council adopted a statement of overriding considerations because of the project’s unmitigated impacts to an historic resource.
Uphold Our Heritage sued, and San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner ordered Woodside to set aside its approval of the demolition permit and the statement of overriding considerations. Woodside and Jobs then appealed.
The preservationists did not challenge the adequacy of the EIR. Rather, they argued that substantial evidence did not support the town’s finding that the alternatives to demolition were infeasible. The council had determined that all alternatives except for the no-project option were economically infeasible. The council cited the expense of each, estimated at $4.9 million to $9 million or more according to the EIR, and at $5 million to $10 million by Jobs. The council also cited statements by Councilman Dave Tanner, a contractor who inspected the house. He said the cost of restoration would be “incredible.”
Judge Weiner found this evidence to be insufficient because there was no comparison of the costs with the expense of the proposed new residence. Woodside and Jobs argued on appeal that, because the project involves a single-family residence, extensive cost information was not required to support the finding of infeasibility.
The court agreed that the issue was subjective, but “some context is nonetheless necessary.” Jobs did not submit cost estimates for the proposed replacement home, and the record contained no evidence about the average cost of building a 6,000-square-foot house in Woodside, the court noted.
“Without some information concerning the cost of constructing a new residence on the property, it is not possible to determine whether the cost of renovating the existing historic structure is reasonable or feasible. Indeed, so far as the present record reflects, it may be less expensive to renovate and preserve the existing structure than to build a new 6,000-square-foot residence suitable for the area,” Justice Pollak wrote. “If the cost of renovation exceeds the cost of new construction, it is the magnitude of the difference that will determine the feasibility of this alternative.”
The court made clear that Jobs’ personal wealth was not a factor in the ruling. The question, Pollak wrote, is “whether the marginal costs of the alternative as compared to the cost of the proposed project are so great that a reasonably prudent property owner would not proceed with rehabilitation.”
The court also rejected the argument that the alternatives were legally infeasible because the town cannot compel Jobs to restore the Jackling House or sell the property.
“[T]here is no legal restraint on the town’s ability to approve the rehabilitation of Jackling House, or to deny permission to demolish the structure,” Pollak wrote. “The fact that Jobs does not wish to proceed with the rehabilitation does not make that alternative legally infeasible.”
Finally, the court concluded, because the record did not support the finding of infeasibility, the town’s statement of overriding considerations was “necessarily invalid.”
Uphold Our Heritage v. Town of Woodside, No. A113376, 07 C.D.O.S. 1442, 2007 DJDAR 1818. Filed January 10, 2007. Ordered published February 7, 2007.
For Uphold Our Heritage: Douglas Carstens, Chatten-Brown & Carstens, (310) 314-8040.
For Woodside: Jean Savaree, Aaronson, Dickerson, Cohn & Lanzone, (650) 593-3117.
For Steve Jobs: Howard Ellman, Ellman, Burke, Hoffman & Johnson, (415) 777-2727.