In 1982, in a letter to the owners of Mattei’s Tavern, the county’s Historic Landmarks Advisory Commission called Historic Landmark designation “long overdue.” It is 28 years more overdue today.

The recent application by the Valley Alliance to have Mattei’s declared an Historic Landmark deserves high praise—and strong public support.

Also deserved is a reply to the current owners’ letter to this newspaper in response to this Landmark designation request (January 28, 2010). Despite previously being politely asked for a “more genuine” discussion of the facts, their short letter has many problems.

1) Let’s start with the whopper: “We fully support moving forward with the historic landmark designation process, once our project has been completed.”

Good grief! Once it is completed ! Do they really think we will fall for this?

City folks may be twice as smart as their country cousins—but we get a lot of time to think about things while we ride back and forth on our tractors.

Most of us have figured out that it is more effective to close the barn doors before the horses leave.

2) They call the landmark designation process “premature”, when everyone knows it is decades overdue.

3) They call this legitimate application an “effort to abuse the historic landmark process”, when it is precisely how and why the process was established under the law.

4) They falsely assert designating the site is “contrary to basic property rights”.

Basic property rights in California, under state and local law, explicitly include the right of the people to protect and preserve sites exemplifying their community’s historic and cultural heritage.

Simultaneously, the law protects basic private property rights: “The designation of such landmark shall not infringe upon the right of a private owner thereof to make any and all reasonable uses of such landmark which are not in conflict with the purposes of this chapter.”

Landmark law represents the reasonable compromise between the private property rights and the community’s legitimate interest.

So, why do we get this radical over-reaction? Maybe they were banking on getting approval for unreasonable uses.

5) Apparently seeking sympathy, they play the victim and malign the Valley Alliance for “not [having] the courtesy to contact them”. They omit that they disrespectfully chose to dismiss, for over a year, repeated advice to initiate contact with this important community group.

6) Contrary to their assertion, nobody is “trying to stop [them] from restoring the

property…”. Reasonable people disagree that a huge modern addition to the Tavern, removal or demolition of two of the five cottages, and construction of modern buildings on the signature landscaped areas qualifies as restoration.

With full knowledge, these sophisticated real-estate developers assumed the risk that community values might restrict their speculative ambitions. The very first thing the letter says is: “we purchased the Mattei’s property because of its historic character as a beloved local landmark”.

If they were not comfortable with this risk, they should not have bought Mattei’s. These out-of-town city boys need to “cowboy up”.

What’s next—whining that the public is obligated to make their private speculations “pencil out” ?

In conclusion, their general concept of a small-scale, cottage resort is terrific. There is plenty of room on this property for “…creating a small, quiet inn…” while fully respecting the historic and cultural values of Mattei’s.

At this point, a straightforward approach towards a reasonable goal would be a breath of fresh country air.—Bob Field


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