Attending the June 5 SLO City Council meeting, I was dismayed to see that the newer members of the council simply sat up there whispering among themselves. Little attention was paid to the citizen speakers who, having taken considerable time to be prepared for getting all their thoughts together, rushed to complete their three-minute allowed statements.
Several experts in the area of architectural history spoke to no avail, while these disinterested councilmembers were to make their important uninformed decisions. They apparently had already made up their minds to vote with Dave "The Pave" Romero.
The main subject on the agenda was the Mancilla/Freitas Victorian/Adobe structure at 868 Chorro Street. It has a long history and like most small houses was protected and supported by wooden structures surrounding an inner adobe core, thereby giving their families more protection from the elements and more rooms for their growing families. This structure is a very cohesive building totally housed under a large mansard roof and is listed on SLO's Master List of Historic Resources.
R2L, a homegrown architectural firm in SLO hired by the building's owner, Larry Hoyt, has developed a complex of seven three-story small linked housing units with a total of 15,415 square feet of contained space including the living area, garages, and storage and only 3,186 square feet of open space consisting of the driveways and diminutive backyards. In R2L's letter of January 18, 2007, it refers to Hoyt's archaeologist Dr. John Parker as requesting that the remainder of the grounds be protected from potential damage caused by development. Clearly, there will be nothing left to protect when this development is completed, as they have eliminated the wooden Victorian wrap-around, thereby desecrating the Mancilla/Freitas structure. The remaining site will be covered with new buildings.
Although councilmembers Christine Mulholland and Allan Settle spoke eloquently and voted to save the entire structure, the final 3 to 2 vote sealed the future for this historic building. Following this vote, Romero instructed staff to change the historic listing of the Mancilla/Freitas Structure. Although it is understood that it had not been listed on the National Historic Registry, it is also understood that it conformed to the criteria to be so listed and has been on SLO's Master List of Historic Resources.
Now, our very real concern, relative to the position taken by the council, is their whimsical removal of historic structures from our Master List of Historic Resources. This should be a concern for all of us.
Without a vote, Romero turned down the request by SOD, Save Our Downtown, a citizens' action group with 500 signed petitions, for a delay so that the public can be better informed and can participate in the height ordinance and Mancilla/Freitas matter this fall. Since so many people are out of town during the summer, Mulholland suggested that information go into utility bills. This excellent, expedient, and uncostly suggestion was also denied, without a vote.
So the question is, should the council be allowed to change the historic listings at will, without the public being fully informed about it? Obviously, this has been a political action taken by a council that is heavily weighted in favor of development, and without the proper knowledge, nor the mores, for what is right and wrong. This should not be a political decision, and entrepreneurs should have proper restrictions placed upon them to ensure that our historic listings are protected.
Even a brilliant ten-minute presentation of factual refutation of Hoyt's and the council's expert reports by Dr. Bruno Giberti, PhD, Architectural Historian, Chair of Cal Poly's Academic Senate and Associate Department Head of Cal Poly's Department of Architecture, was ignored. He clearly stated that, according to the National Register, this entire structure is an historic building. However, regardless of this, the mayor instructed staff to change the historic listing of the Mancilla/Freitas Structure.
Perhaps it is time to reassess our historic listings, our present city council as it is structured, and the free rein of its mayor.
Changing the town this much should be brought before the community in a citizens' vote. Public workshops and forums should be held for all to become informed of the impacts of these new developments. The council is not doing its duty to inform us and is unnecessarily hasty in their decisions. Cities that pride themselves in honoring the heritage of their ancestors take years to make these kinds of decisions, as once it is gone, you can never truly replace an historic resource.
Sandra Davis Lakeman is an architect and Emeritus Professor of Architecture. Please send responses to Patrick Howe, managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.