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Published Februray 25th, 2015
Historic Preservation Adopted After Tense Debate

The second and final reading of a new ordinance is often a formality, since the Town Council has usually finalized and approved the ordinance during the first reading. But at the Feb. 11 second reading of the Moraga Historic Preservation Ordinance, strong words were exchanged, including the threat of a lawsuit. The text was finally adopted with two of the five council members opposed.
Vice-Mayor Mike Metcalf and Councilmember Phil Arth asked that their names be precisely cited on the record as the opposing parties to the ordinance. The two men sided with property owners and residents who voiced their opposition to the text stating that the support of an owner is not required to designate a piece of property as historic.
Dave Bruzzone, whose family owns most of the Moraga Center Specific Plan area, reiterated his concerns about the risks carried by the text. "Anybody, on a whim, could make the findings ... to designate any property as a historical landmark," he said. The Moraga Ranch area is of particular concern to him.
Bruzzone was not the only resident to voice his opposition to the text. Longtime Moraga resident Barbara Simpson was one of the most explicit. "The issue for me is property rights," she said. "I am appalled ... that property rights have to take second fiddle to what the town wants. There is such a thing as property rights in the Constitution. ... You can expect a really nasty lawsuit ... and I'll be one of the people behind it." She said she believes that the target of the ordinance is the Rheem Theatre, which is currently for sale, adding that if the town wants to preserve the building it should buy it.
Judy Dinkle from the Hacienda Foundation indicated that there are pros and cons for the Hacienda to be declared a historical landmark and asked the council to delay its decision.
Metcalf was absent during the first debate. He tried to convince his fellow councilmembers by demonstrating that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) has enough teeth to protect the historical character of buildings. He added that he was concerned about the addition of orchards as a feature that could be declared worthy of historic preservation. Councilmember Arth added that he found it unfair to impose a designation on a property owner, and reminded his colleagues of the compounding factor the designation carries of maintaining the structure at the owner's expense.
Mayor Roger Wykle, councilmembers Teresa Onoda and Dave Trotter remained convinced that this text was the best tool to protect Moraga's heritage and the text was approved. It will go into effect after March 13.


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