May 27, 1998

Palo Alto City Council
250 Hamilton Ave.
Palo Alto, Ca. 94301

Dear Mayor Rosenbaum and Council Members;

When the preservation of historic houses in Palo Alto became an issue in late 1996, the Board of Directors of the Barron Park Association sent the Council a letter (attached) expressing our concern that the real issue was neighborhood compatibility - how new and remodeled houses fit in with existing homes - and urged the Council to consider the issue of design guidelines for neighborhoods that did not qualify as "historic."

We are now concerned that the issue of neighborhood compatibility is being regarded as a subsidiary part of historic preservation. While there may be a significant overlap between these two issues in some neighborhoods, in many others, these are two very distinct issues. We believe that attempting to use Historic Preservation as a substitute for Neighborhood Compatibility will be a failure because it is simultaneously overkill and underkill:

The recently published Study Priority Lists are indicative that Historic Preservation is being applied over-broadly. We are aware that these are study lists, and that there is a timetable for making decisions on the houses on these lists. However, we are also very aware that throughout this process, decision times have been underestimated, and deadlines have been repeatedly extended. We are very concerned about residents being left in limbo as this process drags on.

We strongly urge the Council to separate out the issue of Neighborhood Compatibility from the current consideration of Historic Preservation. Because of the overlap of these two issues, we believe that it may be advantageous to pursue the issues in a coordinated, parallel manner. We suspect that a significant portion of the current controversy is the result of the conflation of these two issues.

We are also very concerned that if Historic Preservation is used as a vehicle for other agendas that it will trivialize the legitimate issue of historic preservation and will "poison the water" for related legitimate concerns, especially neighborhood compatibility. A common reaction to the current Study Priority Lists is first outrage at their apparent capriciousness, followed by derision and ridicule of various choices.

The issue of neighborhood compatibility was part of the CPAC process, including several of the workshops. Those recommendations could provide a useful starting point. In November 1996, the BPA Board surveyed the BPA membership on this issue and found strong support for the concept (survey and results attached; summary letter to Council attached). The December 1997 survey of Barron Park residents (not just BPA members) on one of the salient problems (inappropriately large houses), and found strong support for a neighborhood approval process.

Sincerely yours,

Board of Directors, Barron Park Association