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VOICES AND VIEWS

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Perspective needs facts

​September 25, 2023

 

Editor,

It’s amazing someone will take the time to write a Daily Journal guest perspective with no basis in fact. That’s my personal view of Joe Volponi’s guest perspective about the Baywood Historic District. Some people seem to think if you repeat misinformation often enough people will believe it, so that lies become the truth. Mr. Volponi is entitled to his perspective, but his facts are incorrect.

Two noted architectural historian firms have already determined that Baywood qualifies as an historic district under two criteria, events and architecture. Baywood’s development as a commuter suburb of San Francisco, as a historic streetcar suburb, and as a historic automobile suburb are “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.” The architecture of homes in Baywood reflect the popular revival styles of the 1920s and 1930s and “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction.”

Being a historic district enables property owners to make improvements, and allows the latitude and flexibility to upgrade to contemporary needs and modern conveniences, make substantial renovations and modifications, including additions, and ADUs. Homes can be remodeled while preserving the irreplaceable unique character, craftsmanship, and materials that make the neighborhood special, which is why the Baywood neighborhood exhibits the integrity not found in most other areas.

I joined the San Mateo Heritage Alliance to be a voice for our historic resources that cannot speak for themselves. I hope readers will visit www.smheritage.org to learn the facts.

Lisa Vande Voorde

San Mateo

Guest perspective

Historic Districts: Creating pride, building community​​

Keith Weber, September 8, 2023

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to demolish historic buildings in favor of new development. This is a mistake. Historic buildings are not just old buildings. They are valuable assets that contribute to the character of our city and make it a more attractive place to live, work and visit. 

 

If you’ve ever visited Savannah, Boston, Sacramento, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Pasadena, Pacific Grove, or any other city or town in the United States, chances are it was the authentic character and sense of place created by the historic districts that was most memorable.

Now, all of a sudden, there’s a smear campaign in San Mateo targeting historic districts — and the Baywood neighborhood specifically. It’s a true shame so few are trying so hard to discredit what is so good for so many. Their self-serving, anti-historic district campaign is divisive, false and deceiving, filled with misinformation and inaccuracies. 

What is true and accurate, according to the National Park Service, is National Register listing officially conveys a level of national regard and respect that is not easy to achieve. Importantly, it imposes no restrictions, regulations or demands on any property owner in the district. California Register and National Register listing does not give either the state or the federal government any additional authority over the property.

It is up to the city through its general plan and zoning to ensure these valuable historic resources are safeguarded for the future. San Mateo’s current policy uses the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards — the widely accepted gold standard used nationwide to help owners make design choices that preserve their buildings and protect their investment. Historic designations allow full rehabilitation and upgrades to modern technology and conveniences. 

Those informed of the facts know the great value that National Register designation brings individual property owners, the neighborhood and the city too. Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven, a large neighborhood similar to Baywood, is a prime example of a vibrant and valuable historic district.

***

Through the efforts of many dedicated residents who recognized the historic significance of these homes, the neighborhood became Pasadena’s first historic Landmark District in 1989. Just more than 10 years after designation, Sunset magazine named Bungalow Heaven the “Best Neighborhood” in the West and, in 2008, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2009, Bungalow Heaven Landmark District was designated one of the 10 great places in America by the American Planning Association. “Bungalow Heaven is truly remarkable in that there are more than a thousand historic homes in the neighborhood,” APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer said. “Residents and the city are rightfully proud of this architectural legacy, and we applaud them for their ongoing commitment to protect and enhance their neighborhood’s unique sense of place.”

***

As we contemplate creating a historic district, it is crucial to acknowledge that when individuals exercise their own private property rights it affects their neighbor’s property rights and values as well. Zoning and building regulations are ways that society seeks to balance individual property rights with the rights of the community at large. Historic districts recognize that certain individual properties — and even whole neighborhoods — can have significant community value that current owners have the privilege and responsibility to caretake.  

 

The existing charming character and unique sense of identity is likely why Baywood owners chose the neighborhood and bought their homes in the first place. If Baywood is not designated as a historic district, the many property owners who value its unique historic character truly risk losing the cohesiveness, harmony and sense of place the neighborhood possessed when they bought. 

The designation will tell the city and residents the area is special. The goal of historic district designation is to safeguard individual property rights from misguided improvements, unnecessary demolitions and poorly designed new construction, which can ultimately drag down neighborhood quality and property values for everyone. With the state overriding local land use controls to allow higher density in single-family neighborhoods without requiring adequate parking, just whose property values need protection?

Historic neighborhoods like Bungalow Heaven are somewhat rare, but San Mateo is fortunate to have several neighborhoods that are National Register worthy as historic districts. The Baywood neighborhood is one of them. Please visit smheritage.org to learn more.

Keith Weber is on the board of the San Mateo Heritage Alliance and has been working for the betterment of San Mateo and encouraging the preservation of the city’s irreplaceable historic resources for more than 40 years.  NOTE: Bungalow Heaven text excerpted with gratitude from bungalowheaven.org.

Broader understanding of energy and buildings

August 25, 2023

 

Editor,

With all due respect to distinguished professor Chih-Pei Chang (Aug. 18 letter Broader implications of historical structures), the author misses the forest for the trees.  The point of Ms. Hietter’s statement, “The most sustainable, climate-friendly development is rehabilitating existing properties, not replacing them,” is that demolition of existing buildings and replacement with new ones is not only wasteful, but terribly energy inefficient.

 

Existing buildings represent embodied energy - all the mined metals, harvested lumber, manufactured materials, water, electricity and labor that is used to construct a building.  When a building is demolished and all that embodied energy is taken to the landfill, it is lost forever.  Massive amounts of new energy is required to mine, harvest, manufacture and build a replacement building.

 

“Buildings represent ‘embodied carbon,’ explains Carl Elefante, FAIA and recent past president of the American Institute of Architects, “keeping and using existing buildings avoids the release of massive quantities of greenhouse gasses, emissions caused by needlessly demolishing and replacing existing buildings.  Retrofitting existing buildings to meet high-performance standards is the most effective strategy for reducing near- and mid-term carbon emissions.”

 

Identifying and preserving our historic resources is not only a pathway to energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and sustainability, it is a way we can enrich our lives, link us to our past, and enhance the beauty of our environment.

Keith Weber

San Mateo

Guest perspective

Making case for historic districts

Laurie Hietter, August 4, 2023

When my husband and I were children, our families drove through Baywood to admire the beautiful homes and gardens. As a real estate brochure enthused, “The streetscape of Baywood is nothing short of spectacular with virtually every home a home of great architectural distinction. To drive or walk along the streets of Baywood is to be awed by the authenticity of the architecture, a virtual treasure trove of European storybook homes in garden settings of lush flowers and trees.”

Amazingly, Baywood hasn’t changed much, almost a hundred years later. It still retains its beauty, charm and integrity that enthralled me so much as a child and now as we walk through our neighborhood. 

My husband and I purchased our home in Baywood in 1994. We have deep respect for our neighborhood and home. That’s why we carefully renovated it without affecting its historic character.

We bought our home expecting the neighborhood would retain the same level of integrity and beauty it has had for almost a century. However, in recent years, nine houses were demolished in the Baywood neighborhood (four in the last year). Four of these demolished properties qualified for protection as contributors to the historic neighborhood. The continual unnecessary loss of beautiful homes is why I support the creation of a Baywood Historic District. A historic district will enable homeowners to update and remodel their homes while protecting the neighborhood integrity the majority of Baywood homeowners value so dearly.  

 

In 1990, the State Office of Historic Preservation determined that areas west of El Camino — including Baywood, Aragon and San Mateo Park — should be documented as historic districts because these neighborhoods contained “a large number of older buildings that relate historically and have a high degree of architectural consistency.” Two studies completed recently confirm Baywood is a historic district as defined by national and state standards. Baywood qualifies as a historic district under two criteria: 1). Architecture — the consistency and integrity of the revival architecture of the 1920s and 1930s and 2). Patterns of history — the association with the streetcar and railroad commuter suburb development nationally recognized as historically important.

I am grateful the San Mateo Heritage Alliance initiated the process to nominate Baywood to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. Hopefully, it will raise awareness about what makes the neighborhood special, slow demolitions and encourage better, more compatible design. The designation will protect what makes Baywood unique without causing undue burden on homeowners. 

Preserving properties individually-eligible for the NRHP is important but only one part. Individual designation of properties does not account for, or protect, the significance of an entire neighborhood. We have the opportunity to preserve an area of exceptional historic integrity. Few neighborhoods in San Mateo retain such integrity.

It is also worth noting San Mateo has two districts established after the 1989 Historic Building Survey — the downtown commercial historic district and the Glazenwood residential historic district. The city now has existing processes to support such a district. The city has processes for addressing permit applications for historic homes, whether individually eligible, contributors or non-contributors. These procedures set the stage for preservation in the 1990s but the lack of funds stopped the historic surveys of areas west of El Camino until now.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about what it means to live in an historic district. Yes, you can still remodel your home! You can add a second story, solar panels and an ADU. NRHP listing is honorary and does not come with any restrictions on the property or owners. 

After 30 years as a designated local historic district, what does Glazenwood have to show for it? According to Realtor Chris Eckert, well-maintained and cared for homes, updated with modern conveniences; freshly painted with well-tended landscaping; a tight-knit group of neighbors who have built a sense of community around their shared commitment to their homes and neighborhood; property values greater than the surrounding homes in Hayward Park; and a greater sense of pride in the city they call home. 

The most sustainable, climate-friendly development is rehabilitating existing properties, not replacing them. Renovation also preserves fine architectural details, and the mature trees and landscapes that create the fabric of the neighborhood.

If you care about the historic nature of your city and seek to preserve the unique nature of one of San Mateo’s hallmark neighborhoods, consider joining the Heritage Alliance. Visit smheritage.org for more information.

 

Laurie Hietter holds a Bachelor of Science in geology and led her environmental consulting businesses for more than 40 years with clients including local cities and counties, state and federal agencies, and private energy companies. She is the president of the San Mateo Heritage Alliance.

history, and property rights

Protecting history, and property rights

 

Jul 12, 2023

 

Editor,

A recent guest perspective (7/10/23) presented inaccurate information about historic districts and what it means to be part of one. We would like to correct the record.

Historic districts are beneficial to homeowners, neighborhoods and the community at large. They protect the authentic and unique character of a neighborhood, enhance property values and protect homeowner investment. Historic district designation can lead to significant property tax savings through the Mills Act program. Creating and maintaining a historic district brings residents together and helps build community. Historic districts encourage better design and greater public appeal than areas without historic designation.

 

Homeowners in historic districts are free to remodel their homes, including adding ADUs, solar panels, windows, paint, landscaping and extensively remodel the inside and rear of homes in a historic district. Historic status is considered only if demolition is proposed or the front of the house is substantially modified.

 

San Mateo conducted a historic building survey in 1989 and identified the Downtown and Glazenwood historic districts (the city has not been fully surveyed). The city would address applications for permits in the historic district with existing city staff and regulatory processes (zoning and building codes, design guidelines, etc.).

 

The goal of historic designation is to raise awareness of the historic value of older homes, encourage sustainable remodeling rather than demolition and maintain the historic look of our community. Please do your own research about historic districts rather than relying on construction contractors or developers. Visit smheritage.org for more information.

Laurie Hietter

San Mateo

The letter writer is writing on behalf of the San Mateo Heritage Alliance.

Guest perspective

Protecting the unique history of San Mateo

Keith Weber, April 28, 2023

 

One day your neighbor’s house is there. The next day it’s gone! Ripped asunder and reduced to rubble. The home had stood as a proud contributor to your neighborhood for almost 100 years. You find out the new buyers just “love” the neighborhood — yet appear acutely unconcerned about the attributes that define its character. They want a “new” house. They’re entitled. Tear downs of multimillion-dollar homes have become ironically trendy. And it is destroying our unique heritage neighborhoods.

San Mateo has a wealth of historic resources that can be found in every corner of the city. They reflect important themes in the city’s growth and development — architecture, city planning, social history, ethnic heritage and commerce. Collectively, they tell the story and define the character of our community, adding to the quality of life for all. Yet, many of our historic resources remain unidentified and most are unprotected.

 

Galvanized by multiple home demolitions, Laurie Hietter and community leaders from diverse neighborhoods formed San Mateo Heritage Alliance as a 501c(3) nonprofit corporation in 2022. The organization is a response to community concerns about losing irreplaceable historic resources and the resulting erosion of neighborhood character and identity.

“Undermining our historic neighborhoods by demolishing them house by house, even if well intentioned, is disrespectful and wasteful,” Hietter said. From an environmental standpoint, the “greenest” building is one that is already built.

“San Mateo’s walkable historic residential neighborhoods and downtown commercial district are the touchstones that signify our history and uniquely define our community,” Hietter said. San Mateo can be a vibrant, thriving and diverse city without sacrificing its character or its heritage.

“Economic growth and resource protection are not mutually exclusive,” she said, “but partners in a more prosperous future. New development that respects the contributions of the past enriches the entire community.”

The Baywood, Aragon, North Central, Hayward Park and San Mateo Park neighborhoods reflect the early development of San Mateo when large estates were subdivided for housing in the early 1900s, catalyzed by train service from San Francisco. San Mateo’s century-old homes have a variety of irreplaceable architecture, craftsmanship and landscape that distinguish them from the later post-World War II homes of the 1950s and ’60s. It is remarkable that so many of these historic homes remain intact and continue the identifiable character of their neighborhoods.

 

These early residential neighborhoods invigorated the growing commercial downtown. Even today, most people believe that the true heart of San Mateo is the downtown historic district. The collection of historic commercial buildings in downtown provides the visual, architectural and historical connection to the development of San Mateo between 1890 and 1950. Their pedestrian scale, mixed use and walkability is an enduring example of the smart, sustainable cities so sought after today.

 

However, in spite of being valuable and irreplaceable historic resources, the recent economic boom threatens the loss of many residential and commercial buildings that have not been officially identified or protected. San Mateo’s only historic resource survey is 34 years old, incomplete and outdated. To make informed planning decisions — or create an adequate general plan — city policymakers need baseline information on potential historic resources. Before buildings are torn down, altered or rezoned for more intense development, it is necessary to ask if they have some significance to the community. Without fundamental information about our historic resources, uninformed decisions will be made and important resources lost.

 

San Mateo Heritage Alliance is urging the city of San Mateo to conduct a citywide survey of historic resources. There are laws that protect historic resources and many examples from other communities that historic preservation increases both economic value and civic pride. To catalyze a citywide survey, SMHeritage has independently hired a consulting firm to identify whether the Baywood neighborhood qualifies for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a residential historic district. SMHeritage hopes the city will then continue this type of survey for other potentially historic neighborhoods.

Historic district designations are zoning tools that “preserve the architectural detailing, high-quality materials, craftsmanship, character and charm that people seek in historic neighborhoods,” Hietter said. In practical terms, they encourage homeowners to remodel, upgrade and expand sensitively because they know their investment and the character of their neighborhood is protected over time.

 

“Our heritage is what we have inherited from the past,” Hietter said, “to value and enjoy in the present, and to preserve and pass on to future generations.”

To learn about or donate to San Mateo Heritage Alliance visit smheritage.org.

 

Mayor's choice

August 22, 2022

 

Editor,

The Aug. 16 Daily Journal article about the recent San Mateo General Plan Subcommittee meeting on community design and historic resources quotes Mayor Bonilla as saying he wanted to avoid “weaponizing historic preservation and character in the approval process,” and cautioning that we must avoid a “politically charged discussion.” On this point, I am in full agreement with the mayor.

 

Avoiding a politically charged discussion about historic resources and community character is actually quite simple. The first step is to acknowledge that they exist and are really very important to San Mateans.


The second step is to identify them by including a citywide historic resource survey as part of the General Plan update currently underway. Public requests for this have been consistently ignored by the council.

 

And lastly, to incorporate thoughtfully “robust” preservation policies and actions in the General Plan that protect, preserve and enhance those resources for current and future generations.

 

The only way that historic preservation and community character will be weaponized is if Mayor Bonilla continues to do it himself. Mayor Bonilla knows that state law and CEQA protect historic resources so it’s no surprise that he and his pro-growth City Council majority continue to resist completing the city’s 1989 historic survey that would provide the objective standards needed to determine historic significance.

 

The city’s shared historic, architectural and cultural heritage should not be weaponized. Mayor Bonilla can unite the community or he can divide it. Either way, it will be Mayor Bonilla’s choice.

Keith Weber

San Mateo

 

Where are all the architects?

August 15, 2022

 

Editor,

After seeing the rendering of the proposed building on the Talbots property I ask “Where are all the architects?” This will be the sixth building within a couple blocks that has or will have the same architectural design. San Mateo has a diversified architecture throughout the city which should be embraced and incorporated in the architects designs. The planning commission keeps approving he same building designs over and over again. The commission has the ability to deny the design of a building from the developers and ask them to create a design that is unique and individual. San Mateo is becoming a mecca for large office and housing units. There is a great opportunity to design buildings that don’t look the same, block after block after block ... . We need diversity in San Mateo’s downtown architecture as they have been doing in Redwood City.

Dino Antoniazzi

San Mateo

 

Mini mansions in San Mateo

By Sue Lempert

Aug 8, 2022

 

There was a time not long ago when young tech entrepreneurs made so much money they were buying up modest homes in downtown Palo Alto, tearing them down and building mini-mansions. The City Council eventually put a stop to this. Are mini-mansions becoming a trend in San Mateo when some members of the Planning Commission think the bigger the better?

Before writing this column, I wanted to be as objective as possible (Disclaimer: I live in a historic home built in 1921). I revisited the home at 415 Fairfax Ave. also built in 1921 which was the subject of a heated San Mateo Planning Commission meeting. The application to demolish and build a much bigger house was under scrutiny and discussion because of neighborhood resistance against its demolition, citing ADU size, building height, design concerns and California Environmental Quality Act violations. The Planning Commission, at its July 12 meeting, found no reason to deny the project. It noted the neighborhood was not a historic district and met all design standards, with the city obligated to follow state guidelines. The commission thought approving the development was an easy decision given the factors involved. I was especially appalled that it was an “easy” decision.

And the news gets worse. Since there was no appeal filed within 10 days of Planning Commission approval, it won’t go before the City Council. The City Arborist, Matthew Fried, still has to approve the plan which takes out one heritage tree and probably dooms a second one. There have been many letters asking to save the trees (Disclaimer: I introduced the ordinance to protect heritage trees when I was on the council).

There is another original 1920s house in Baywood, 564 Edinburgh St., that is petitioning to be torn down. It’s 1,600 square feet to be replaced by a 3, 240-square-foot home. Deadline for public comment is 5 p.m. today.

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I recognize there is a need for more housing but the need is for more affordable housing. And these mini-mansions won’t be affordable. In our desire for more affordable housing, we have allowed if not the encouraged the building of too much market-rate housing. We have more than enough expensive apartments and condos. And in my opinion, many will soon be vacant. I supported Measure R and still believe increased densities should be allowed near public transportation. I am not a fan of 10-story buildings. I don’t want San Mateo to look like some of our neighbor cities. I am very much for rent control for a limit of five years to keep our existing and new rentals affordable. A much better solution than building more and more

 

 

This old house 

By Jon Mays, Editor, SM Daily Journal​​

July 22, 2022

My neighbor spent days, then weeks, watching me on our front porch painstakingly peel off the paint from the doors of our built-in hutch. Ours was one of those homes that had layers and layers of paint from over the years when, instead of cleaning, new owners, landlords or tenants would simply paint over the marks.

 

It made it difficult to open and close the doors and I decided it was my task to fix that. I had to put down drop sheets on the front porch in case there was lead paint and spent up to an hour each morning scraping and scraping and scraping.

 

“A jack of all trades and a master of none, huh Jon?”

 

I knew it was a dig but, he was so good-natured and generally helpful, I took it well and smiled.

 

“You’ll get there.”

 

I did, eventually. And I repainted them, cleaned up the glass, shined the hardware and put them back where they belonged. I never did get to the other built-in book cases, but it’s on my list.

 

When we moved in our house, it was a mere babe at 90 years old. Now that’s it more than 100 years old, there is very little of this house I haven’t worked on or thought about working on, or even just looked at for a while wondering what to do.

 

What I have learned is that it has what is called “good bones.” It’s a very basic house, with a very basic layout and there isn’t much to it. But the wood is good, the light is good, the pipes are now good and we’ve done what we could to make it as nice as possible.

 

As with many cheap houses that have been used as rentals, it’s been modified. Not too much, but enough. Yet, the value of this house to me is its age and utility. Restoring it as much as possible to its original state improves it.

 

Rather than just replacing an overhead light that was originally hard-wired to the now long-gone knob-and-tube electrical system, I have spent far too long Frankenstein fixing it because it came with the house and is beautiful. When I say far too long I mean more than a weekend, when replacing it would have taken no more than an hour. It also didn’t help that I didn’t really know what I was doing. I kept the pushbutton light switches in case we could ever find a way to get back to that. And since some of our doorknobs were replaced over the years, I have spent hours going through bins at Urban Ore looking for some that match the originals. We have come very close in some instances, but it’s always a work in progress.

 

Our neighbors have similar homes and I’ve gotten clues from those what the original conditions were to see what we can do and there is evidence throughout about paint colors, tile, wallpaper, original flooring, etc. We have done what we can to match what we envision the original condition could have been. I know, for instance, that the original house color was white with green trim, but no one else wanted to go with that; however, my grandparents’ farm house had the same color scheme. Instead, we went neutral gray, or as the paint color said, “San Francisco fog,” with white trim. Close enough.

 

Our bathroom tile is now tiny white hexagons with black ones to reveal a larger flower shape, and there is a reason why people don’t have those tiny tiles any more. They’re a pain.

 

Our floors are now back to the original hardwood and we were able to find the moulding from Pedersen Arnold to replace the section once cut out for an old achy wall heater.

 

Our house isn’t fancy enough to be historic. It doesn’t really even have a style. It’s not craftsman, and it’s not farm house. It’s just a small house built in 1919 originally as a vacation home for people from the city. I also recognize that small houses like ours are endangered because there is too much of a push for higher densities. But I’d like it to be saved. It can easily last another 100 years.

 

While I don’t have that many years in me, I do have a few more to fully bring it back to its original condition. It’s our home. And sometimes the learning is in the doing, being is becoming and original is much better than new.

 

Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jon@smdailyjournal.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.

 

 

"Baywood is one of the most unique and architecturally interesting neighborhoods not only in San Mateo, but in all of the Bay Area.  Destroying its character will not solve the housing shortage.   Please work to protect the unique and historic homes and neighborhoods in Baywood and all of San Mateo."

 - Glenn Voyles, Baywood resident

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