Mountain View Voice

News - October 21, 2011

Council kills proposal for historic house in the Cuesta Annex

by Daniel DeBolt

Following a City Council decision made behind closed doors on Tuesday, the future hangs in the balance for a 130-year-old house and the city's proposed history museum.

City Council members say they voted 4-2 against a proposal to add a restored 1880s home to plans for a Mountain View history museum in the Cuesta Annex. Mayor Jac Siegel recused himself because he owns property nearby.

Pushing the plan was developer Roger Burnell in partnership with the Mountain View Historical Association. Previously Burnell had called the proposal a "win-win-win" for the city, as it would preserve one of the city's oldest homes, allow him to develop a 20,000-square-foot office building on the "blighted" site where the house now sits at 902 Villa St. and provide the History Association with a restored house to go with its museum.

But council members say they received more comments opposing the museum than supporting it because its footprint intrudes on the unstructured open space at the Cuesta Annex — and the Pearson House could potentially increase that footprint by 10,000 feet. Those comments include a letter sent to the council on Tuesday, Oct. 19, from the Audubon Society and the Committee for Green Foothills, which said the Annex is Mountain View's "one uniquely free area for children to roam in the dirt and the bugs and the birds," adding that "Cuesta Park is a far better location" as only developed parkland would be lost.

"I did not hear from the community that they wanted this house there," said council member Laura Macias, explaining her vote against the proposal in the closed session meeting.

Macias said she hoped the house could be moved to Shoreline Park where it could sit near the Rengstorff House. "We have this developer willing to refurbish it. It is important to see where our momentum is and continue that."

Council member John Inks said he also voted against the proposal, citing the financial burden the city could have in maintaining the house if the History Association was unable to raise the money to do it.

Leaders of the Historical Association could not be reached by the Voice's press deadline on Wednesday.

Fundraising difficulties?

Several council members said they had the impression that little fundraising has been done towards the museum's $5.5 million cost.

Instead of fundraising, council members say Association members have focused on the Pearson House, proposing to substitute it for a $750,000 museum fundraising milestone due in April 2012. The milestone was a city requirement in a September 2009 memorandum of understanding that would allow the Association to build the museum at the rear of the Annex.

"If it's hinging on milestones, I think we're coming to the realization that the museum people have to really scour to get the funds or something," Inks said. "They are kind of in a bind."

Council member Mike Kasperzak, who supports moving the Pearson House to the Annex, said, "I personally have concerns that this might be all there is. I don't know whether the Association will be able to build a bigger thing. I hope they do. They have to come up with three quarters of a million dollars by April under current terms of the MOU. The association was taking the position this house would have constituted fulfillment of that initial requirement."

Inks noted that the Los Altos History Museum, which the Association would like to emulate, had $1 million from one donor. But the Association has no "angel donors, at least not publicly," Kasperzak said. Inks said fundraising in this economy is tough even for existing charities.

"I think it would be great if this setback motivated the people in the community who do really want a historical resource like this to come out and get publicly engaged in the process," Kasperzak said.

As for the Pearson House, Inks said there is some potential that could be demolished, though no one involved wants to see that happen.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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