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There’s No Place Like a Historic Home

Historic preservation is always a work in progress. At one time, allowing historic structures to be zoned for commercial use was a key tool in city preservation. Today, some owners – 24 at the moment – of such historic properties are looking to turn them back into homes.

On July 5, the City Council unanimously approved a mechanism for owners to do just that, provided the property is used as a single family residence.

Of course, one question on everyone’s mind was “how does this affect the Morse Mansion?” and it was Council Member Jamie McLeod who said what everyone was thinking.

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The simple answer is: not at all. Staff intent in writing the ordinance, said City Planning Director Kevin Riley, “was for the structures to be single family structures.” Only three of the 24 owners currently asking for the new designation have properties zoned for multi-family residences. “If someone wanted to, they could come forward to amend this,” said Riley.

Sure enough, one of those owners – David LeBaron, part-owner of the Morse Mansion on 981 Fremont St. – was there to do just that. On the National Historic Register, the 1892 Morse Mansion has been at the center of an unresolved zoning dispute since 2008.

In 1981, the city approved the previous owners’ plan to convert the building into offices, rezoning it as OA-HT (Professional Office – Historic Combining). The property was sold in 2007 to the current owners, a consortium of four San Jose developers – Mark DeMattei, brothers Clyde and David LeBaron, and Myron Von Raesfeld – doing business as De Mattei Contruction.

In 2008, complaints to the Santa Clara Planning Department indicated that the property was being used as a sorority house. The City cited the owners for code violations, but stayed any action beyond inspecting the property to make sure it was safe and habitable, according to Santa Clara Director of Planning and Inspection Kevin Riley. Currently, about 10 SCU students continue to live there, and, apparently, there have been no further complaints from neighbors.

Tuesday night, David LeBaron asked the Council to reword the ordinance from “single family” to simply “residential use.” Despite some back and forth between LeBaron and Council Member Pat Mahan about whether having two postal addresses at her home constituted a multifamily residence, the Council wasn’t ready to make the jump from ‘single family home’ to ‘frat house’ and retained the original wording.

Rules of the Road

Some local drivers apparently need a refresher course on California driving basics. On June 29, the Santa Clara Police Department issued nearly 30 tickets to motorists who failed to stop for pedestrians at two El Camino Real intersections.

“During their enforcement [action], officers observed drivers not paying attention or otherwise distracted,” the SCPD report says. “Some drivers did not know or believe they had a duty to stop and yield to a pedestrian inside a crosswalk.”

RDA Shutdown: And the Beat Goes On

Under California’s new state budget, if Santa Clara chooses to continue operating its redevelopment agency (RDA) the city would owe the state about $11 million this year and $2.7 million in future years.

Last month, the legislature dissolved the RDAs with measure AB 26, and immediately passed AB 27 to allow them to continue operating if they pay the state pass-through payments.

These payments are intended to compensate for the tax “increments” that RDAs divert from schools and other local agencies, and are higher than the Supplemental Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (SERAF) payments – an earlier state effort to recoup money that would otherwise be available without the RDA diversions.

To circumvent the state’s shutdown of RDAs – first proposed by governor Jerry Brown in January – Santa Clara, along with hundreds of other California municipalities, has been transferring RDA assets and debt into other local agencies over the last six months.

However, the California state finance department may throw a monkey wrench into this financial sleight of hand. The state controller’s office is reviewing RDA asset transfers made after January 1, 2011, according to Chris Hill, California Department of Finance principal budget program specialist in local government issues. “If the [receiving] agency isn’t contracted to a third party for expenditures and encumbrances [debt], the controller will order those assets to be transferred back.”

One beneficiary of the new law will be Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD). That’s because the enormous amount of residential development planned in north San Jose is in the SCUSD. However, because San Jose is developing the formerly agricultural land under the aegis of its RDA, San Jose has so far dodged SCUSD’s attempts to gain additional funding for schools to serve the growing area.

Technology Tops the Bill at Convention Center Events

Providing an object lesson in why Santa Clara’s commercial North side needs the planned parking garage, 1,600 software engineers descended on the Santa Clara Convention Center last week for Yahoo!’s Hadoop Summit – sending motorists to Great America’s overflow lot in search of parking.

Although “Hadoop” isn’t a household name, the computer programming framework is used by many household names including Amazon.com, eBay, FaceBook and the New York Times to quickly handle huge amounts of data.

Adding to last week’s buzzing hive of convention center activity, Parks Associates (www.parksassociates.com) held its annual Connections digital home networking and entertainment conference.

While past conferences have highlighted many facets of this broad subject from home networking via the electrical wires already in your house to Internet-based home medical monitoring systems, this year’s conference was all about home video viewing choices.

Packet Video (www.packetvideo.com) – one of the first to put video on a mobile phone – was on hand with its Twonky Media system, which provides a way to play music, video, and photographs that are stored on any of your devices on any other suitable device – for example, playing video that’s stored on your PC on your TV set.

Santa Clara-based Rovi (www.rovicorp.com) showed its Total Guide video content discovery system. The system – which is built into set-top boxes or TVs – provides an expanded version of the familiar on-screen channel guide that combines multiple content – for example, on-air TV, on-demand TV, and Netflix Instant – into a single program guide.

In addition, Rovi’s system personalizes the guide based on your viewing history. For example, at the top of their menu Mad Men fans will see the recently-released fourth season of the AMC drama. Sports fans, by contrast might see USA vs Japan in the World Cup.

It all sounds great, but there is a catch: The entertainment that you’re consolidating with these systems has to be recognizable to them. Technically that means stored on a device that supports home networking standards such as UPnP or DLNA – two of the most common. The good news is that an increasing number of consumer electronics and service provider offerings are building in these capabilities.

Even mobile technology giant Qualcomm is elbowing into the connected home picture with its free Skifta Android app. Skifta (www.skifta.com) turns your mobile phone into a remote control that streams media – video, music, photographs -from wherever it’s stored (As long as that somewhere is DLNA-certified) to your TV set via common wireless Internet (WiFi).

“We want to encourage consumers to view devices they have in new ways,” says Qualcomm Head of Global Market Development Gary Brotman.

SVP Spotlights Santa Clara’s Green Power Business Leaders

Recognizing that energy efficiency and “green” power are win-wins for communities, utilities, non-profits and businesses alike, last month Silicon Valley Power (SVP), Santa Clara’s city-owned electric utility, awarded its annual SVP Energy Innovator Awards to five city-based businesses and one non-profit.

Agilent Technologies: The manufacturer of test and measurement equipment received the large business Energy Efficiency Partner award for “smart” heating and cooling systems that reduced 2010 power consumption by 10 percent – 3.8 million kilowatt hours.

Bella Vista Inn was named small business Energy Efficiency Partner for reducing electric use with motion sensor-controlled lighting, and refitted air conditioning, hot water and laundry equipment.

Data center operator CoreSite received the Environmental Innovator award for its LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) gold-certified building in Santa Clara, and for energy-efficient temperature control that cuts electricity use by about 6 million kilowatt hours annually.

Intel was this year’s SVP large business Green Power Champion. The long-time Santa Clara corporation purchased 1.43 billion kilowatt-hours of Renewable Energy Credits – making Intel the EPA’s number one voluntary buyer of green energy – and installed a 100-kilowatt solar array on its Santa Clara headquarters, annually generating 134,000 kilowatt-hours.

The Neighborhood Christian Center received SVP’s small business Green Power Champion award. The church uses 100 percent renewable energy.

Finally, SVP’s small business Environmental Innovator award this year went to automated test equipment maker Roos Instruments for the company’s long-time participation the SVP’s green power program, and reducing its electricity use by 6 percent in 2010. Roos aims for 10 percent in 2011.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at cschuk@earthlink.net.

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