1) PAC*SJ recently released its first annual “Endangered Eight” list of the most threatened historic places in San José. As a resident of the County, which of these eight places most resonates with you personally? Which of these would you use the power of your elected office to address, and how?
While all of the Endangered Eight are important architectural & cultural landmarks, what adaptive reuses might restore their vibrancy and preserve their remembrance are myriad. From creative redevelopment that preserves key architectural features and the historical continuity they represent to more traditional preservationist efforts that would preserve the buildings as a window into the past, I am in favor of whatever path forward keeps our historical treasures from becoming erased from the landscape, whether by neglect or wrecking ball.
What resonates with me are buildings that illustrate the underrepresented parts of our region's historical tapestry. Hence, I rank the Bayside Cannery in the Alviso Historic District as the most important of the Endangered Eight, as it was owned by "Asparagus King" Thomas Foon Chew from 1906 to his death in 1931. This is extraordinary when one considers that he built up this agricultural goods canning company to become the third largest such business in the US while California was passing "Alien Land Laws" which prohibited Asian immigrants like Thomas Foon from owning agricultural land. By owning the business that canned the agricultural goods rather than the farmland itself, Thomas Foon outmaneuvered racist laws and became a millionaire: a remarkable story that is mostly absent from our regional histories.
As for the powers of the Assessor's Office, I can assert that I would be receptive to applications for the Free Museum Assessment Exemption as detailed here on the Board of Equalization website here: https://www.boe.ca.gov/proptaxes/pdf/Library_MuseumExemption.pdf
For example, if PAC*SJ were to purchase the old Bayside Cannery with the intention of turning it into a free admission museum, the property could receive up to a 100% assessment reduction under the Free Museum Assessment Exemption, allowing the money saved to be reinvested in preservation and restoration.
2) Is there a historic place or preservation issue not on our “Endangered Eight” list that you would nominate to be added? If so, what solutions would you offer as an elected official to address the issue/threat?
What I submit to you is not necessarily a candidate for "preservation" - but a candidate for public acknowledgement. San Jose has one of the longest histories of Chinese American presence in the United States, yet much of the architectural history that testifies to this fact was lost due to racially motivated arson, displacement, and demolition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, there are civil engineering accomplishments of this community that not only remain - but are still used on a daily basis today. I speak of not just the old South Pacific Coast Railroad route (including its tunnels) that connected San Jose to Santa Cruz (many portions of which reside under the Highway 17 route today), but of Mt. Hamilton Road, which was built almost exclusively by San Jose's Chinese American community to enable the construction of the Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. There is good reason to not just add interpretive signage along these routes, but also to potentially rename portions of these routes in honor of these Chinese American Pioneers of Santa Clara Valley.
3) Do you believe that SB9, which allows by-right redevelopment of up to four new units on most single-family-zoned parcels statewide, is compatible with the preservation of older and historic homes and neighborhoods? Why or why not?
A frequent theme in my campaign for Assessor has been the need for the Assessor's Office to embrace its role as a property data clearinghouse for the benefit of the public. As stated in my campaign blog "What is an Assessor?" (https://www.electcrockett.com/blog/what-is-an-assessor) "...as Assessor I would have a duty to provide the factual data this office collects in the course of its operations to our elected representatives and community leaders so they can craft fact-informed, data-driven precision-guided legislation that can wisely use government resources to serve us all."
SB9 is an example of blanket legislation that became inevitable because of a property data void created by certain Assessors who refuse to freely report relevant comprehensive countywide property data they collect. Without this data, our legislators could not precision-craft their law because the data to support exceptions to its general rules was not readily available. This left some residents concerned about the inability to effectively protect certain cultural heritage zones from incongruous new construction projects (New Almaden being a good example).
That said, I would be eager to provide the data the Assessor's Office collects, free of charge, to any organization that would like to build a data-driven, fact-informed case for enhancements to SB9. I would urge such organizations to seek to balance the need for our communities to maintain important historical touchstones with the imperative of providing housing and business ownership opportunities to all residents who call Santa Clara County home. What such a legal revision would look like is not the role of the Assessor to say, though you can count on me to remain adamant that any proposals be based on the clear facts, provided freely by a transparent, public service oriented Assessor's Office.
4) In the past two years alone, at least five vacant historic buildings in Santa Clara County have been lost to fire, and many more have suffered from chronic neglect and vandalism. How would you propose more effective code enforcement at the City and County levels to prevent the continued loss of our historic resources to neglect? What additional measures would you propose to address these systemic problems?
The Assessor's Office does not have authority over city or county code enforcement.
That said, there is a gardener's proverb that says "the best fertilizer for a garden is a gardener's footprints." It means that things do not suffer neglect when being actively tended to. So any program that can allow for adaptive re-use of vacant buildings - even if only on a temporary basis - it can ensure that the buildings are better preserved than if they were left as vacant shells.
For example, on Angel Island State Historic Park, there is a Civil War era base called Camp Reynolds that was active up through World War One. After the camp was closed, buildings collapsed due to neglect, one after another. When the State Park system took over, they set up a program where volunteer docents with the requisite skills would be allowed to live in the remaining buildings provided they work actively on repairing and restoring the remaining structures. The volunteers would submit lists of materials they needed to perform the repairs, and the State Parks would review the requests, approve them, and then cover the costs for the materials. This program's preservationist activity made Angel Island's Camp Reynolds environmental living program possible - a program where Californian 4th graders can travel to Angel Island to spend the night in a real Civil War base and learn history through immersion.
5) Do you believe the County should collect compensatory mitigation fees from development projects that result in the demolition of historic resources? Why or why not? If such a policy was instituted, how would you like to see those funds directed?
The Assessor's Office does not have authority over any such city or county compensatory mitigation fee programs.
That said, I would be very interested in knowing how one would define "historic resources" - as without a defined rubric many things could be designated as historic that are inconsequential, and conversely things that are rare but not presently valued would likely not qualify for the program. As Assessor, there are many programs that I will be required to administrate based on the laws as given to me - and few things complicate the process of administration more than ambiguous metrics. Hence, my concern for such a program getting the metrics very clear before implementation.
One potential metric that could solve such an impasse, and would be relatively easy to administrate, is whether or not a property being demolished had, at any time, been subject to a Mills Act historic preservation contract with any relevant municipal government. As Assessor, I would have these records, as the Mills Act reduces property assessments in exchange for property owners investing the tax savings in property restoration and preservation. I would happily make these records available to any municipality that needed this information for a compensatory mitigation fee program.
6) The County has long acknowledged that our Historic Resources Inventory-- a county-wide survey of historic sites intended to proactively guide development decisions-- is incomplete and out-of-date. Do you support increased County funding and staffing levels to ensure that the HRI is an up-to-date and effective planning tool?
While as Assessor I would not have a say over the Heritage Resources Inventory administrative budget is, I can tell you personally that I support funding for historical research of all kinds.
In testimony of this, I am presently an Executive Producer for the upcoming feature-length documentary “Reenactress” (https://www.reenactress.com/) which explores the little-known history of the women who fought as soldiers during the American Civil War and the reenactors who portray them. I am also the head of the Historical Committee for my Masonic Lodge, San José Lodge no. 10, which was established in 1850.
7) What role do you believe that historic preservation should play in creating and sustaining a vibrant and culturally diverse future for Santa Clara County? Is there a particular project or effort you have undertaken--either professionally or personally-- that best embodies your vision for historic preservation?
As I see it, the goal of history-telling - whether through historical demonstration, literature, artifacts, or architecture - is to inspire a love of history in others. To do so effectively requires understanding the lived experiences of the communities you will be sharing history with, then tailor the content of the narrative to tie those present lived realities to the factually grounded past world you wish to share with them.
The past is an enormous place, and our duty is to show people a doorway they are interested in walking through. Such a metaphoric door frequently is crafted from components of cultural identity and commiseration with parallel struggles faced by our forbearers. When the introduction to history is done right, it inspires people to keep exploring history - that greatest story never fully told.
What I love about history is that as one tries to understand the motivations that crafted the lives of our ancestors, empathy and critical thinking skills expand. In the best cases, this empowers the historian with diplomatic skills to take back to their communities and civic life.
In this vein, I have long been an advocate for building a narrative bridge that connects the diverse Latin American community of 21st Century San José with the fascinating history of the Latin Americans of 19th Century Santa Clara Valley. The best example of this was when I attempted to rename a local school after San José-born American Civil War Veteran José Ramón Pico, founder of Company A of the "California Native Cavalry" (https://sanjosespotlight.com/crockett-rename-burnett-middle-school-after-major-pico/). While my attempt was unsuccessful, I did discover Capt. Pico's unmarked grave in Santa Clara Mission cemetery in the process. I worked with the Veterans' Administration, and 114 years after he died, Capt. Pico received his veteran's headstone, preserving his historic memory for posterity.