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By Roz Rogoff

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.

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.