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Susan Ellenberg

Running for: 

County Supervisor District 4

Campaign Website: 

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? 

I drafted a first response that addressed the critical need to preserve the Flea Market, then a second on behalf of the Burbank Theater. Since the question asks me to address what I would use THE POWER OF MY OFFICE to address, I'll focus on the Burbank Theater (which is in my district) after saying just a few words about the importance of the Flea Market. This site has functioned as the central business district for generations of immigrant families. It has been an incubator for local entrepreneurs and has been the bedrock on which thousands of families have been able to remain stably housed, care for their children and begin to build generational wealth. Contracting its size or limiting access will be devastating to the vendors who work there which ultimately means it will devastate families and potentially lead to greater dependence on County safety net services, meaning our collective tax dollars will have to be directed to meet the needs the redevelopment project will have taken away. Moving on to Burbank, this historic structure sits in the middle of a strong, unincorporated neighborhood, just a stone's throw from Valley Medical Center, Santana Row and Westfield Mall. It is not far from Campbell or downtown San Jose, either, and is therefore brilliantly positioned to be a major community asset if redesigned and repurposed to maximize cultural/communal value. The new owners have an opportunity to create something really special at this site and my office will be here to support that vision in every way we can.

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? 

No place comes to mind - your list is comprehensive and appropriately prioritized.

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?  

The answer lies in the details of the implementation of the law. The well-intentioned ordinance seeks to expand our desperately underbuilt housing stock in neighborhoods where lot size and other qualifying factors exist. The new homes should certainly be built in concert with the style of the neighborhood, allowing for modernization as is appropriate given new building codes, priorities such as all-electric appliances, double paned windows, etc. If older homes have received or are deserving of historic status, they should be protected from demolition or significant renovations that would destroy important historic elements. However, historic is not synonymous with 'old' and I would not like to see properties declared ineligible for increased density simply because the existing home was built before a certain year. Our housing crisis is too grave, our inventory turnover too low, and the income disparity too unsustainable to not be doing everything we possibly can to allow more people to share in what so many homeowners already enjoy: safe, stable housing for themselves and their families.

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? 

To be honest, I'll need to learn about any shortcomings in County code enforcement. I would welcome your partnership in educating me and seeking solutions.

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?

I would consider this fee very seriously and would balance the potential benefit (depending on how the funds are directed) with further increasing the expense of building in our County. Our land, labor and materials costs are some of the very highest in the country and we need to be mindful about how we incentivize or discourage the building that we so desperately need. If the scales were to tip in favor of the fee, I would like to see the funds directed to the impacted community to support or create other culturally important feature.

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? 

I would review a presentation on the inventory record to learn how back dated the list currently is and seek to understand how and when it is used as a planning tool. Looking to markers of our heritage is an important piece not only of preserving our history but in guiding planning decisions that incorporate the elements of our local history we wish to preserve and upon which we seek to build.

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? 

Historic preservation helps us tell our story - good, bad and ugly. It is important to me that our preservation efforts tell the WHOLE story of our collective heritage and that we don't selectively omit elements of select cultures while also not glorifying elements of our history that resulted in significant harm to portions of the community. Art, architecture, land and gathering places all tell stories - for me, as a sometimes-writer and avid story-gatherer, that is where the richness in our collective history lies. Children (as well as many adults) learn kinetically: if we want them to understand and appreciate their own heritages and those of their neighbors, they need to visit, touch, engage with, hear and play in these places. "Telling" them from the front of a classroom won't engender the kind of love and pride we want to instill so they will want to remain part of this community, celebrate its history and continue to build a sustainable future here.

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