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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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The Dark Side

Uploaded: Nov 17, 2011
I persuaded Jim Gibbon to help save Mudd's Restaurant building from the City's plan to tear it down. Jim attended the last City Council meeting and announced in Public Comment that he is preparing an application for Historic designation for Mudd's and Crow Canyon Gardens.

One of the City founders, whom I respect and correspond with regularly, was critical of my association with Jim Gibbon. This person emailed me, "Jim is a loose cannon. You also will be considered by many to have gone over to the dark side."

Yes, Jim Gibbon isn't too popular with City leaders. He has made many speeches at City Council meetings critical of actions they have taken or proposed, and his Citizens of Open Government has sued the City over some of these issues. So I understand why some City insiders find Jim Gibbon a thorn in their side.

However, Gibbon is a LEED architect which means he is a qualified professional in Green or Sustainable architecture. He is probably the most qualified resident of San Ramon to recognize the importance of the design of Mudd's in the development and growth of green architecture in California.

Here's a description of the design of the building and gardens by JSWD Architects as published in a booklet by the architect, Max Jacobson.

"An ecological community. In 1978 we were asked by Virginia and Palmer Madden to work on an extra-ordinary concept: a restaurant, a conservation center and a large garden, all organized to work together as an ecological system. The conservation center would run a year-round experimental community garden, demonstrating organic farming techniques. Support for the project would be provided by the restaurant, which would prepare and serve the food grown in the garden, and would return its waste to the gardens for composting. People coming to the restaurant would be invited to explore the gardens and the center, where a community-based environmental studies program would be housed.

All of the required buildings would incorporate energy and resource-conserving principles appropriate to the surrounding area, and thereby act as educational tools themselves. From this concept, an integrated and complex project has grown and taken shape on nine acres of farm land in San Ramon, California."

In an email to Max Jacobson I asked him about the pioneering aspects of his design.

He replied, "As far as the pioneering aspect of the building, it was pretty early. Our energy consultants on the building were the Berkeley Solar Group, the organization that was asked by the then (and now) Gov. Brown to develop energy standards for what is now known as Title 24, the statewide legislation that governs the energy efficiency of new and remodeled buildings. It was the first restaurant to serve food grown locally on the grounds, and I think the first restaurant building to utilize passive solar strategies for heating and cooling.
Max"

Joe Queirolo, who was Crow Canyon Garden's organic gardener for about ten years, contacted Jacobson about keeping the City from tearing down the building. Mr. Jacobson asked for a walk through of the building in September. That week Economic Development Director Marc Fontes was away on vacation. When he returned he tasked his assistant, Joe Tanner, with setting up the meeting. Tanner was away for a day or two. The following week Jacobson was away.

Everyone is back but a walkthrough has still not been arranged for Mr. Jacobson. Virginia Mudd is waiting for Jacobson's report on the condition of the building to see if it really needs to be torn down. She would like it to be restored and maintained if possible.

I walked through the building last March with Fontes and Reggie Meigs, when he was still Chief Building Officer. Meigs said he didn't do the inspection and Fontes had the report. Fontes said the building was full of dry rot, but that was not in the report I was later given. The building appeared sound to me when we walked through it.

The City Council insists the Mudd's building would cost over one million dollars to restore, but they have approved spending much more to restore other "Historic" buildings in San Ramon. The Glass House was restored by the City for $1.7M, and the Harlan House will probably require as much or more than that.

Jim Gibbon isn't "the dark side," on this issue. The RDA is keeping this project in the dark. RDA meetings are held before City Council meetings, usually at 6 pm or 6:30 pm and not televised and rarely promoted.

Most of what the RDA does is hidden from residents. They have not explained why they are so eager to tear down a City owned building to subsidize a private developer. Last February the RDA approved a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) with restaurateur Michael LeBlanc to lease him the land Mudd's stands on for him to build a New Orleans style restaurant.

Here's a definition of a DDA from the City of Fresno: "a DDA is used when the Agency plans to transfer Agency-owned property to another party for development."

In addition to the DDA to lease LeBlanc the Mudd's property, the RDA voted to allocate $480,000 to tear the building down.

LeBlanc's original plans were for a larger building than Mudd's but the RDA told LeBlanc to fit his new building to the footprint of the Mudd's building. There's only one reason for that and that's to avoid preparing an EIR, which would have to consider the historical significance of the property and would have to be distributed publicly for 45 days for comments. So who's hiding in the dark?

I'm hoping that the new members of the City Council will respect the work done by Max Jacobson and Virginia Mudd at least enough to allow Mr. Jacobson to see the building and any reports about its condition before following up on the DDA with Mr. LeBlanc.

I don't opposed Michael LeBlanc's plans to build an upscale Restaurant in San Ramon, but there are many properties he could use without tearing down an important landmark in sustainable architecture. Mudd's and Crow Canyon Gardens are a vital part of the history of San Ramon, and even though that history is recent, it doesn't make it any less historically important.

Here's a link to the Facebook page started by Joe Queirolo to Save the Mudds Restaurant building from being torn down. I hope my readers will join us there to prevent this from happening.

Comments

Posted by Joe Queirolo, a resident of another community,
on Nov 18, 2011 at 6:18 am

Great blog, Roz. I hope lots of people read it. I'm still waiting for a reply from Marc Fontes regarding the million dollar estimate and Jacobson's walk-through.

If more evidence is needed that this real estate deal was fishy, my suspicions were first raised when I read that the City justified its purchase of the building by saying it would be meeting the Crow Canyon Gardens Master Plan's requirement for a nature center. I was intimately involved in the development of that master plan and the nature center was specifically designed to house Crow Canyon Institute and its programs and to replace the old trailer we were leasing. The City got rid of CCI, let the nature programs wither and die, and then suddenly declared the need to spend $2.3 million for a nature center. It just didn't add up.

It's ironic that now the "locavore" movement is stronger than it's been in 30 years and energy efficiency is once again on everybody's lips and the City wants to obliterate the Bay Area's most important examples of both. As you know, the Crow Canyon Gardens project brought the City much positive attention from all across the country. But for some reason it was always a prophet without honor in its home town. Now time has clearly shown it's something not only worth preserving, but honoring.

I'm pleased that Jim Gibbon feels the same way.


Posted by RonJ, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I appreciate your "exposure" of this issue. As I said on the FaceBook page for this project, per the City's comments you discussed, the actual incremental cost to the City will be in the range of $500,000+ to rebuild the restaurant (the City's $1,000,000+ estimate of rebuilding minus the $480,000 they propose to spend on the demolishment). This seems much less than the City has spent on other refurbishments. I trust our new Mayor and Council Member will be of more help in saving this facility. FYI, a local restaurant operator that might really be of assistance on a future restaurant would be Rodney Worth of the Peasant and Pear in Danville. He is in an expansion mode, and seems to being doing a great job of establishing new eateries. His first was in San Ramon.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Thanks for the reply, RonJ. I'd have to look at the minutes of the meeting when this was decided on, but $480,000 was offered for the demolition and $20,000 for something else. So the total was $500K.

The original estimate to restore the building was $215K, which was included in the RDA Bond for $2,300,000 used to purchase the property.

Mr. LeBlanc is a very successful restaurateur in Oakland. I have not tried his Pican Restaurant, but everyone I mention it to loves it. I can understand why the City Council would like to have a version of it here, but it raises a lot of unanswered questions.

Should the the city be investing in an expensive and potentially risky private venture at this time? If the restaurant fails, residents could be stuck with a half-finished or incongruous building next to the renamed Pican Gardens (Yes, LeBlanc proposed to change Crow Canyon Gardens to Pican Gardens).

If the restaurant is successful and LeBlanc needs to expand the parking lot, where would it go? There's a new office building right next to the old parking lot. So would the City offer to pave over part of Crow Canyon (oops Pican) Gardens for LeBlanc's parking?

If the Mudd's building cannot be restored right away, it can at least be maintained until funds or contributions are available to restore it, and the $500K the City Council offered to tear it down could go a long way towards fixing it up.

Roz


Posted by Jim Gibbon, a resident of San Ramon,
on Nov 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I have not thought of myself as being on the dark side. I have always tried to bring light to the darkness we find in the City Council's effort to exclude our residents from knowing what goes on in our city.

What is about to happen to the Mudd's building is a good example of what can happen when we are not diligent and rely only on the business interest of the council.

The agreement to destroy Mudd's Restaurant was signed by Herb Moniz, the last City Manager, on the last day of his employment at the city. We deserve better and I think the new council will take another look at what has been occurring in this city for a long time. Our interest has not been served by the past council. That is where the dark side resided.

Jim


Posted by Joe Queirolo, a resident of another community,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 6:11 am

Pican Gardens? The garden is part of Crow Canyon Gardens Park. I wonder what arrangement LeBlanc is proposing to justify his appropriating a public park for private purposes. Is there any precedent for that? If he staffs it with his own garden staff working as contractors with the City, what will happen to the garden if his restaurant fails which, according to a study by a professor of Hospitality Management at Ohio State University, has a 60% chance of happening within 3 years?


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Joe,

Isn't there's a small organic garden that's part of the Mudd's property? I believe that's what he's calling Pican Gardens. I haven't read the whole DAA yet (it's very long), so I'm not sure what other changes the agreement allows LeBlanc and Taylor to make.

The property LeBlanc is being leased is around 2 acres. These include the gardens that were used for the restaurant. I'm wrong about changing the name of Crow Canyon Gardens, but who knows what could happen in the future.



Roz


Posted by Joe Queirolo, a resident of another community,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Roz,

It used to be that there was no part of the garden on Mudd's property. But that may have changed. I'm looking at the zoning map and it appears the park has been split in two with the gardens now zoned Limited Office and only the fields zoned Parks and Recreation. It would be interesting to know when that zoning change happened and why.


Posted by Joe Queirolo, a resident of another community,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

After a closer look, comparing the zoning map to Google Earth, it seems the property line is where it always was. If the lease includes any of the garden it looks as though it would have to include part of the park.


Posted by Roz Rogoff, the San Ramon Observer,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Roz Rogoff is a registered user.

Maybe LeBlanc is planning to plant his own garden. I'll try to read the DDA next week when I have more time.

Roz


Posted by Bob P, a resident of another community,
on Nov 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

As I recall there was an area where Mudd's planted their own herbs and veggies, that was not part of the Community Gardens. I believe Mudds wanted their own organic garden.

In my opinion, the Community Gardens should remain for the community, and not become Pican Gardens, whatever that means.


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