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By Roz Rogoff

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About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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There's nothing tasty about replacing Mudd's

Uploaded: Feb 24, 2011
I usually don't attend Redevelopment Agency Meetings because not much happens at them, and I thought since the new Housing Authority was approved there wouldn't be any RDA meetings anymore. Boy was I wrong! I missed the RDA meeting Tuesday night when the Council in their guise as the RDA board unanimously approved replacing Mudd's Restaurant.

I was at the City Council meeting on September 22, 2009 when Michael LeBlanc gave a presentation on making over the Mudd's property into a Southern style plantation restaurant similar to his Pican Restaurant in Oakland. LeBlanc seems like a sincere guy, and I'm sure he's a fine restaurateur, but Mudd's is a historic landmark in San Ramon and should be preserved and not torn down.

The Planning Commission recently voted to move the Harlan house from its long-time location on San Ramon Valley Blvd. The Harlan house is the oldest structure in San Ramon. It was originally built in 1856, and the San Ramon Historic Foundation wants to preserve it just like they did with the Glass House.

Well the only reason the Glass house and the Harlan house are still around in the 21st Century is because nobody tore them down in the 19th Century to build something else in their place. Yes, there's the tendency to think that any building 25 or 30 years old is fair game for replacement, but Mudd's has as much historical importance to San Ramon as the Harlan and Glass houses.

Both the Harlan and Glass houses were moved from where they were first built in order to preserve them, but Mudd's history is tied to the land. It was the start of the organic farming movement in California back in the 1970's and '80's. That doesn't seem long ago enough to be historical, but in combination with neighboring Crow Canyon Gardens, Mudd's is a very important landmark.

Councilman Dave Hudson is quoted in Wednesday's Express article calling Mudd's "functionally obsolete and we can't use it for anything." That's nonsense.

The staff report when the City purchased the Mudd's property from John Ebert in December of 2008 was to use it as a nature center, with a classroom, office, restroom, storage, and a sheltered picnic area for education/recreation activities. This was in accordance with the Crow Canyon Gardens' Master Plan adopted in 1996. The original estimate for repairs was $215K, not over $1M as the Council claimed less than a year after purchasing the property.

But suppose it did need $1M. The City put over $1.5M into restoring the Glass House. Now they are looking for funds to restore the Harlan house, but Mudd's is called "obsolete." This whole scenario smells fishy to me.

When I heard John Ebert was trying to sell Mudd's for about $2.5M in 2008 I asked the City Council in Public Comment to buy the property to preserve it as a historic landmark. For some reason the minutes from the July 8th meeting are not on the City's website with the rest of the minutes for 2008. This is from the Draft of the Minutes in the Staff Report of the July 22, 2008 meeting.

"Roz Rogoff, resident, stated her concern that the building and gardens be preserved as an architectural landmark now that Mudd's Restaurant has closed. She recommended that the City investigate the possibility of purchasing the building and gardens. She suggested that the property could be used by the Parks Department for their programs."

A Staff Report for the RDA meeting on October 28, 2008 quoted the Building Inspection report stating, "Most of the adverse conditions of the three buildings are deferred maintenance issues." The Termite Inspection reported the absence of evidence of wood destroying insects or organisms. Maintenance costs to make the buildings useable were estimated at $215,000. The RDA voted to authorize the purchase of Mudd's at that meeting.

On December 9, 2008 the RDA voted to approve "Resolution RDA 2008-013 – Authorizing an Appropriation of $2,300,000 in Redevelopment Agency Bond Proceeds for 10 Boardwalk Place, APN 209-770-015, Acquisition and Improvements (CIP 5519)." That amount included the $215,000 for improvements and $2,085,000 for the purchase.

John Ebert had to get out from under all the debt he owed on Mudd's. He owed back taxes of $10,400, and two seconds – one held by Oakville Produce for $63,000 and another by Ron Taylor for $318,000. These added up to $391,000, which is the Public Sale price on the County Assessor's website, with a transfer date of December 18, 2008.

So what's the problem here? Well at the September 22, 2009 Council Meeting when Michael LeBlanc first proposed his takeover of the Mudd's property, he had an assistant holding the drawings of the building and landscaping for the new Heritage Restaurant. That was Ron Taylor, the same investor who was repaid the $318,000 loan he had on Mudd's when the City purchased the property.

Taylor is the owner of Terra Nova Industries, LeBlanc's architect and builder of LeBlanc's Pican restaurant, and would-be developer of LeBlanc's new Heritage Restaurant in San Ramon.

Now is it just me, or is it very fishy that the City Council as the RDA would spend $2.1M to purchase an historical property next to a City Park (Crow Canyon Gardens) to use as a nature center and then find out less than a year after a building inspector estimated maintenance improvements of only $215K, would suddenly be so decrepit that it is now useless and must be torn down?

Is it just me who finds it fishy that the City would pay $318,000 to an investor in the property who then comes back with a plan to tear it down and replace the building with a new restaurant for a rental fee?

Is it just me that when the State threatens to take RDA funds away from Cities the City Council holds an RDA a meeting to approve this rental agreement?

Fishy yes, tasty no.

Comments

Posted by Dave, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 5:46 am

I agree with you, Roz. I love that building, especially the wavy wood in the ceiling. My kids attended classes in the gardens and I even went to a wedding reception in the smaller building. It is a shame and I will not go to the restaurant simply as an act of protest. Some things should not be destroyed in the name of economic development. Tragic!


Posted by Ron J, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 8:47 am

Roz, this is very well written, and you raise some very interesting points, both esthetically and financially (if not also ethically).


Posted by Deb Santone, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 9:48 am

Roz makes some very good points... it does sound fishy!


Posted by Jim Gibbon, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:00 am

Thank you Roz for your fine report on this subject. It is unfortunate that the City Council/Redevelopment Commission are true to their form. They have not ever seen a piece of property that they couldn't turn into money. Now we can add historic buildings.
Jim


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

When I saw Dave's message above I thought it might be Dave Hudson, but obviously it isn't. Hudson does post replies in my blog, so I expect to see something from him or one of the other City Councilmembers explaining why the building must be torn down.

Those of you who regularly read my columns know that I support many of the City's plans to maintain revenues and keep the city solvent. I consider this one a violation of public trust.

The RDA purchased the property at 10 Boardwalk Place presumably to be used as a Nature Center in conjunction with Crow Canyon Gardens. I supported the City's takeover of CCG, because Crow Canyon Institute wasn't working cooperatively with the City, but City Staff has not maintained it suitably. Still at least it is still a City Park, and there is a Master Plan to improve it.

The purchase of Mudd's was in accordance with the Master Plan. Replacing it with a commercial venture by outside developers isn't. Mudd's is owned by the residents of San Ramon, not by Staff or by the City Council.

I don't believe that residents should vote on every land use decision, such as voting on the North Camino Ramon proposed zoning changes. The CAPP Initiative was defeated in 1999, because it would have required a vote on almost every proposed development. I believe in property rights of developers within appropriate land uses.

Mudd's property is zoned for a restaurant, so the land use isn't being changed, but the property is now owned by the City and the City should not be giving it away to a developer. The City of San Ramon should not be issuing bonds to go into the restaurant business.

This is an example where I would support a vote or a ballot measure for residents to decide. Jim start passing your petitions around, and I'll sign one.

When Mr. LeBlanc gave his presentation to the City Council in September of 2009, he proposed the Hermitage as an upscale restaurant and an Events Center. He said it would be the only one in the Tri-Valley area. However as I pointed out in my comments on this item, Patrick David's Event Center had just opened a mile away from the Mudd's site; so it would not be the only one.

I thought the bad economy would kill this proposal. Patrick David's Event Center closed in 2010 and the building was for sale. If Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Taylor want to build another one, they should buy that building if it is still available and put it there or somewhere else suitable.

Maybe when the Police Department moves out of their temporary building, LeBlanc and Taylor could buy that one from the City. There are other opportunities for the City to make money from this venture without subsidizing it with taxpayer money.


Roz


Posted by HungryMan, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Can't wait to eat at the new restaurant. We need more upscale eating establishments in the city. We have enough parks. This is a good use of redevelopment funds that will generate sales tax revenue for the city. I hope it becomes a destination eatery.


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