— Mann believes that Moomjian and several other experts listed on the Historical Resources Board's website view their responsibility as proving what their clients want proved. She cited Moomjian's occupation as an attorney to bolster her case.

I called Moomjian to ask him if he considers the historical-report-writing process to be adversarial in nature, like writing a brief defending a client in court. He replied that it is adversarial in cases of "involuntary site designation," such as at the Cleveland Avenue house, where someone other than the owner wants the house designated. "That's because clients don't want other people telling them what they can and can't do with their property," he said.

However, Ron May, an archaeologist also on the Historical Resources Board's consultant list, believes that when the Development Services Department asks for a report, it wants it to be objective. "The report should represent the house, not the client," he told me. "But there are experts on the list who act as hired guns to serve only their clients' desires. And the developers know who they are."

It occurred to me that in asking the developer to hire the researcher rather than appointing one, the City may not want the reports to be objective. After contacting the City's planning department to inquire, I received a call from Eric Symons of Mayor Sanders's office of communications. He said I might submit my questions regarding the historical-designation process through his e-mail address. "When Development Services...asks for a historical report on a property for the Historical Resources Board to consider," I wrote at the end of November, "does it expect the report to be objective rather than adversarial? If objective, what precautions are taken to ensure the reports are objective?" As of this writing, Symons has not written back.

After the property owners' and appellants' reports came in, the planning department's Kelly Saunders and Cathy Winterrowd wrote the city staff recommendation meant to guide the Historical Resources Board. "Staff's position," they wrote, "is that the issues which speak to the [historical] integrity of the property, namely the heavily textured paint, the replacement of the brick piers, the addition of [a concrete ramp in front], and the replacement of some wood windows, do impact and detract from the house and any potential significance to such an extent that the property is no longer eligible for designation.

"Furthermore, despite the Mann report's contention that the modifications are 'minimal alterations' which 'can easily be changed to restore the home to its original appearance,' the Board, as it is aware, may not condition designations to require restorations or modifications. All properties considered for designation must meet the criteria and be eligible for designation in their current condition."

Finally, echoing Moomjian, Saunders and Winterrowd wrote: "It should also be noted that the Craftsman style is not a unique or rare style within the City of San Diego and there are hundreds of Craftsman properties which have been designated, including several which are very similar in design and massing which exhibit far better integrity."

The decisive vote on 4374 Cleveland came in October, and the Historical Resources Board members who voted did not concur with staff. The board had first scheduled the University Heights committee's appeal for its August meeting. But at meeting time, only 8 of 15 boardmembers showed up. The University Heights organizers would have needed all 8 votes to prevail. Yet the quorum for an official meeting was also 8, so the board could have gone ahead. "During the meeting," said Christine Mann, "Poiset threw a fit that we only wanted to stop development. He was very angry. He had such a sense of entitlement. And to think it's a Craftsman that's nearly 100 years old."

The board delayed the hearing until October 26. During the interim, the City changed the number of boardmembers from 15 to 11, with the quorum being 6. When the October meeting came around, 7 boardmembers attended. Six votes were needed for the appeal to succeed. The vote was taken, 5 boardmembers voted in favor of the appeal, and 2 voted against it. So the appeal was denied. "Anyone who didn't show up," noted Mann, "was a vote for the developer."

In her report, Mann had argued that too much negative development had already occurred in University Heights. She explained to me later what she meant. "Too many ugly, boxlike condo buildings with parking rather than yards in front have already invaded University Heights," she said. This sentiment prompted a lecture in the city staff recommendations.

"Although the Board's function," wrote Saunders and Winterrowd, "is to address solely the historicity of the property..., the extent to which the Mann report addresses redevelopment in the community and the potential redevelopment of the 4374 Cleveland Avenue property merits a side note. Although staff acknowledges that there has been demolition of older homes over the years to accommodate new development which takes advantage of updated zoning allowances, historical designation should not be used to hinder or attempt to control redevelopment. The appropriate avenue for design controls is through the long range and current planning processes, not through designation of a property which does not meet the established Board criteria for designation."

But except in the most obvious cases, how is one to know whether a property meets "the established Board criteria for designation"? Councilwoman Atkins had told the University Heights Historical Committee to find out 4374 Cleveland's historical status from the board.

Nevertheless, contended the Poisets' architect, Tim Golba, investors must be able to know ahead of time whether investment properties are going to be held hostage to the historical-designation process. "My clients are not big developers," he told me. "This was a first-time thing for them. They figured they could proceed safely because the Cleveland house was in such ghastly shape. The chimney was almost falling off, the roof was badly bowed, and the interior looked like it had been finished from Kmart. The most that could be said for that house was that it was a period piece. Yet those people in University Heights acted like this was a watershed moment in historical preservation."

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Comments

TheUrbanWitch Dec. 4, 2008 @ 1:39 p.m.

My heart breaks every time greed wins. It is so sad to watch as the homes and landscaping that make San Diego beautiful are replaced with concrete blocks. Thank you for your article.

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Fred Williams Dec. 4, 2008 @ 4:55 p.m.

This is San Diego.

Someone honorable like Christine Mann, who does her homework on behalf of the community and who I'm sure was not compensated for her efforts, is reprimanded by arrogant downtown staffers who are incensed that anyone would dare contradict their always-favorable-to-development findings.

Those of us who actually try to participate and contribute to the community are blocked by the downtown crowd, who cling to every petty scrap of power. Lawyers who always owe loyalty to their clients over the truth have no business making findings of historical fact.

Sounds like the Historical Resource Board is yet another tool for cowardly politicians like Toni Atkins who pass the buck and never stand up for the community. We're all totally sure the councilwoman wife of developer and CCDC Board member LeSar had absolutely no idea such a thing would happen to community members who came to her for help, and got shafted instead.

Why don't board members show up to their own quarterly meetings? Too busy? Are they maybe told not to show when something controversial is on the agenda?

Is anyone appointed to a city board in the last ten years worth a bucket of warm spit? Look at their performance in "oversight"...failure after failure. The mayor and outgoing council clowns are either ashamed of their work, or secretly pleased that they've provided cover for their well-connected friends.

Good story, Joe. At least the Reader is revealing San Diego for what it really is...a slime pit of self-serving corruption run by and for the downtown crowd and their cocktail party friends who get appointed to these worthless boards.

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