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January 11, 2006

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Publication Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jackling house protectors prevail in court: Judge rebuffs town's decision to allow mansion's demolition Jackling house protectors prevail in court: Judge rebuffs town's decision to allow mansion's demolition (January 11, 2006)

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

In a sharply worded ruling, a San Mateo County Superior Court judge has rejected a decision by the Woodside Town Council to allow Steve Jobs to demolish an 80-year-old mansion and replace it with a new home -- plans that have split the council and the Woodside community in a debate over historic preservation versus the rights of property owners.

"The town of Woodside was arbitrary and capricious and did not reflect a proper exercise of discretion," said San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie S. Weiner in a 22-page decision responding to a January 2005 lawsuit against the town and Mr. Jobs. The suit was brought by a group of historic preservationists who call themselves Uphold Our Heritage.

The group sued under provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act to protect the Jackling house, a 17,250-square-foot mansion built in the Spanish Colonial style in 1925 by a noted architect for copper baron Daniel C. Jackling.

Mr. Jobs' attorney, Howard Ellman, said that if the judgment is finalized, an appeal is likely.

Mr. Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, has called the Jackling house "an abomination" and has not kept it up. The house on Mountain Home Road is open to the elements, with windows and doors removed and not replaced or covered over, roof leaks going unrepaired, and mold and dry rot taking hold.

His efforts to demolish the mansion, which he has owned for 21 years and where he lived for about 10 years, split both the Planning Commission and the Town Council at a time when the town was just beginning to figure out a set of rules regarding historic buildings.

In a 4-1 vote with two of the seven commissioners absent, the Planning Commission disagreed with town staff and decided in June 2004 that the destruction of the mansion and the resulting increase in undeveloped land after a smaller house was built would add open space to the town, an important Woodside value. Planning Director Hope Sullivan had said that such a rationale did not meet the standards of the state's environmental laws.

Preservationists, who had the backing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State Historical Resources Commission, appealed the decision to the Town Council, which voted 4-3 in December 2004 to uphold the Planning Commission's decision.

In his decision to vote against the appeal, Councilman Dave Tanner said at the time: "As a contractor, builder and person who lives in Woodside, I hate to see something unsafe sitting there. It's just going to fall down or cause harm to somebody."

The council, agreeing with the Planning Commission, also noted the public benefit of open space, and said alternatives to demolition that were included in the project's environmental impact report were infeasible and unjustifiable.

In rejecting the council's decision, Judge Weiner called "arbitrary and capricious" and "an abuse of discretion" the finding that demolition alternatives such as rehabilitating or relocating the house were unjustified or infeasible.

The council's conclusions were "not supported by substantial evidence," such as a submission of architectural plans for a new house, a cost comparison with the alternatives, and the market value of the property, she said.

She used similar language to reject the council's argument that replacing the mansion with a new 6,000-square-foot house was "a public benefit" because it adds to the town's stock of open space.

Citing passages from the general plan, the judge noted that the concept of open space applies to undeveloped land meant for public use, not private developed property on which buildings are destroyed.

Moreover, she said, the general plan asks residents to preserve, protect and enhance the town's "unique character" and its buildings and sites "of (archaeological), historical and cultural significance."

The council's decision approving Mr. Jobs' request "is the utter antithesis" of the plan, she said.

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