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Our Readers Write: Historical preservation, school reopening a mistake, and more

The Anna Vickers house at 1419 Virginia Way
(Courtesy)

Letters to the Editor:


Historic designation well-deserved

In a recent opinion letter, Alice DeBolt took issue with the City of San Diego historic designation and La Jolla Historical Society award recognition of the Anna Vickers House at 1419 Virginia Way. (House’s restoration is not historical preservation) I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Ms. DeBolt’s critique.

To start, there are factual errors in Ms. DeBolt’s letter, the most egregious of which is the attribution to architect Edgar Ullrich. Ullrich designed wonderful homes in La Jolla, many of which are historically designated, but this is not one of them. Historic evidence related to the construction documents the Los Angeles firm of Webber, Stauton & Spaulding as the architects of record.

Ms. DeBolt argues for “originality” in historic preservation, citing materials, paint colors, and plan design. Certainly, we want to get the facts and character features of an old building correct through proper research methods, as architect Ione Stiegler did in preparing the historic report on which the designation is based. But equally, we want a building modernized for contemporary use, in this case, as the residence of a 21st century family. If a building doesn’t serve a purpose for the present and future, it will fall out of use, and there is no worse fate for an old building than abandonment. One has to look no further than Red Roost and Red Rest as examples, or just down the street on Virginia Way where Windemere Cottage once stood.

Ms. DeBolt posits this historic restoration makes a mockery of preservation “…if the goal is to be able to see history as it really was.” The nuanced answer to that issue lies in the passage of time. For it is a false sense of history to promote a singular narrative of a historic house—there are many narratives, reflecting different cultural attitudes, over multiple generations. It’s a disservice to view history as nostalgic or sentimental, an idealized vision of the past unrelated to current reality.

Architect Laura DuCharme Conboy did a highly commendable job preserving the essential architectural character of this house while simultaneously addressing the practical needs and aesthetic tastes of her clients—its current occupants. This is a project well-deserving of both historic designation and design recognition.

Heath Fox , Executive Director La Jolla Historical Society
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Historic designation concerns rehabilitation, not restoration

In response to Alice DeBolt’s letter titled “House’s Restoration is not Historic Preservation” dated July 13, 2020.

The majority of Alice DeBolt’s concerns can be addressed by clarifying that the house did not undergo Historic Restoration, but rather was awarded the Jewel Award for following the guidelines for Historic Rehabilitation (involves upgrading existing features and/or adding new features to accommodate a change in use, to provide economic or social benefit to keep a historic property in service). Fern Glen was awarded for its adherence to the norms of Historic Restoration (re-creates missing features, based upon physical or documentary evidence, to return a property to its appearance at a specific point in time). Both are specified in the US Department of the Interior’s Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and overseen by the City of San Diego’s Planning Department.

And directly from the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards,The treatment ‘rehabilitation’ assumes that at least some repair or alteration of the historic building will be needed in order to provide for an efficient contemporary use.”

“Contemporary use” in the case of Virginia Way addresses the changes in today’s lifestyles from those over 90 years ago, among them include: indoor/outdoor accommodations (expanded patios), open floor plans, no live-in domestic staff, sustainability, and code-mandated Class A roofing.

Mrs. DeBolt raised two concerns: color/materials and back façade.

Our research conflicts with the information provided by her painting contractor. County Assessor records confirm that the LA-based firm of Webber, Staunton and Spauling designed the house (Mrs. Vickers’ primary residence was in LA). No documentation exists that the original roof was offset cedar shingles, though the Assessor’s records from 1964 document synthetic tile. Regardless of the original roofing, current fire codes require Class A roofing (non-combustible). And while historic designated homes may be able to use wood shake and shingle, why take the risk?

Color is a concern for Preservation and Restoration, not for Rehabilitation.

Regarding the back façade, one of the standards for rehabilitation states “New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.”

If the new wing were removed, Mrs. DeBolt can rest assured that the Olivet Lane façade, with all its character defining features and charm, would be intact. The garage wing was designed specifically to preserve the integrity of the back facade while creating privacy for the inhabitants, and is attached to the original house in a unique way that clearly delineates old from new. It’s all there, a privilege to be enjoyed by the owners and their invited guests.

As for the original color, it can be restored at any time at the discretion of the then current owner, whether it’s 1928, 1968, or another hundred years from today.

Laura DuCharme Conboy
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Reopening schools is a mistake

As a 71-year-old parent of a high school student, there are choices of actions I can take for protecting my household from extra risk of COVID-19 caused by premature reopening of school: (A) 100% online option at current school, if available, (B) change to a 100% online school, (C) home schooling with tutoring help from university students and retired teachers.

Having seen the way to address my own needs, I feel obliged to articulate a minority view as to why sending students and teachers back to physical school campuses is a mistake for health and economy in San Diego in August 2020.

Many issues are documented by the United Teachers Los Angeles at https://www.utla.net/sites/default/files/samestormdiffboats_final.pdf

By creating an illusion that COVID-19 is only a problem for other people, the disease insidiously invites ignorance of its risk to everyone - permanent organ damage and death. The illusion is perpetuated by assuming a gambling win of being among those for whom the infection has no effect other than contagion to others. Both altruism and self-interest call for avoiding that gamble.

The theories for opening school campuses during this pandemic depend on resources we do not presently have in adequate amounts: effective discipline for wearing a mask and maintaining six feet of physical distance; indoor ventilation; testing availability; reliable government; spare hospital space, equipment, supplies, and personnel; knowledge about the virus; effective treatment; vaccine.

The proffered plans for opening schools in the midst of an out of control pandemic entail increased expenses and complexity with cohort scheduling, distancing, cleaning, filtering, hybridization, testing, reporting, conflict resolution. Hybrid plans include students dividing their school hours between campus and home. Looking at the color-coded charts and mind-numbing complexity, I wonder if the “can do” American spirit has fallen for the trap of hubris. For parents who can not handle children at home I have no adequate answer, but instead the question: How would your children cope with your death from COVID-19?

I understand that in the long run we are all dead, but the economic argument for opening schools is short sighted and non-strategic. Bad health is bad economy. Depending on non-existent resources is bad economy. Wasting resources to open in August and close in October is bad economy. Better to work on improving online courses and fostering online access. Better to admit reality and temporarily convert school campuses to childcare for the most needy parents.

My opinion goes against what I read is desired by the overwhelming majority of parents for whom children at school is a resource they planned for before COVID-19. But COVID-19 does not follow the path dictated by human desire.

Last and most important – workers. Beyond compassion for lives, it is bad economy to lose the cost of investment in training teachers, nurses, and doctors only to have them and their families die from additional spread of COVID-19 caused by premature school openings. If school administrations ignore worker wellbeing, then workers are justified to stay home.

John A. Berol
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Leaf blower issue exacerbated by pandemic

I was very encouraged to see that San Diego City Councilmember Barbara Bry is asking the council’s Environmental Committee to docket the complaints her office has received regarding leaf blowers (, July 16, 2020). When asked, in an article published in the Light (“Will San Diego Ban Leaf Blowers?” Nov. 28, 2019), if banning blowers was possible, Bry responded, “It’s definitely possible.”

Since that article was published, our world has dramatically changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. I think this makes the leaf blower issue even more critical as this pandemic has made us so much more conscious of protecting our respiratory health. Yet each and every day we are subjected to the air pollution and particulate matter these devices spread around our neighborhoods. According to The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, leaf blowers, “stir up mold spores, leaf fragments, and other dust that could aggravate asthma with exposure.” The Wall Street Journal wrote “the emissions (from leaf blowers) and fine particulate matter are hazardous to the health of both gardeners and homeowners” (July 20, 2020).

I hope the committee takes a serious look at this issue, and commend Councilmember Bry for her initiative.

Chuck Dunning
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Pandemic exposes “Citizens United” blunder

We can now see the full folly of the US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in favor of Citizens United. The ruling gave corporations overwhelming powers to fund elections. Corporations have provided countless billions to elect candidates who put corporate profits first. Our current crop of politicians must perform as corporations demand or they will not see election or re-election.

The pandemic should have been minimized months ago but too many pro-corporate politicians are tripping over themselves trying to prove that they are the pro-corporate candidate who wants to keep the economy open. The divide and conquer mask versus no mask argument is something corporations like since it complicates the issue and takes the spotlight off of themselves.

Corporations have gotten their way, their profits are first and pro-corporate politicians are doing their best to keep the economy open. However this allows the pandemic to gain hold and kill more citizens. Fear of the pandemic keeps citizens away from corporate businesses and tanks corporate profits. Let’s look at the Koch brothers, who spent hundreds of millions and successfully installed pro-corporate politicians who are also against renewable energy. Not having enough pro public safety politicians extends the pandemic, which shuts down the economy and tanks Koch profits. Be careful what you ask for, Koch boys.

To make things worse, it is becoming increasingly evident that corporations have reached a new plateau in campaign funding. They no longer need to fund any candidate; they only need to threaten any candidate who expresses any view they do not like. I witnessed this by running for office and seeing how lobbyists and other corporate agents gain favor with corporations by trashing candidates who express anything that could lower corporate profits. This behavior is spread across all parties.

The US Supreme Court really screwed the pooch with their Citizens United ruling. Maybe companies who have no interest in gaming the system will speak out in greater numbers and join citizens to help bring some balance back to our broken campaign finance system. The Supreme Court should reverse their ruling but in all honesty even though a more rational ruling from them would be appreciated, it is not expected. And that is the way our corporate masters currently want it.

Louis Rodolico
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Neighbors, Friends and Four Tomato Plants

For the four neighbors living on Inverness Drive, quarantine did not hinder their ability to seek avenues of creativity. Inverness Drive has an array of culture, long-time residents, and a deep spirit of community. Spirit that could not be broken by quarantine or low supplies of toilet paper. It is a time for creativity, friendship, optimism, and growing cherry tomato plants! Yes, you read it correctly. Growing cherry tomatoes.

How does the story begin and where did these beautiful plants come from? A few weeks back, one neighbor received a tomato plant from a very dear friend. She planted her tomato plant in her front yard with sunshine and optimism as her guide. Another neighbor had grown three starter plants from seeds that came from a single tomato from last year’s harvest. She gave two neighbors each a plant, keeping one for herself. Now all four neighbors had starter plants. Bound and determined to grow the best and most delicious cherry tomatoes in San Diego County, a race was started amongst four neighbors on Inverness Drive.

The plants were all the same size, but the neighbors were not quite sure if they were the same species of tomato plant. That really did not matter to any of them. All that mattered was that the excitement of a race was taking place out in the sunshine, occasional breeze, maybe some misty weather and the comradery that the anticipation of a harvest was approaching. There were some ground rules: All the tomato plants had to be planted in the front yard so that each participant could easily verify their competitors’ harvests. They all used the same fertilizer, no bug spray and no professional gardeners. The race began, pictures were taken, texts were sent and families bragged about who they thought would prevail.

The plants look great and cherry tomatoes are rapidly filling the vines! Some have ripened and proven to be very sweet. As for the winner, does it really matter? The joy continues thru the summer months, with many texts, photos, virtual cocktail hours seated next to one’s plant and a hope that this will be the symbol of healthier years to come. Today, what started as a simple race, aimed at taking our minds off the uncertainties that life has presented, has possibly evolved into an annual tradition reminding us that life continues to move forward no matter what the circumstances. To my neighbors, thank you for the joy you bring to my life.

Maria Bauz
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Shootout at the BOK Corral: Where are the numbers buried?

Cowboy Pete Navarro’s premature shotgun scatter and Doc Fauci’s ethereal rise from behind his tombstone are at best obscurantist sleight-of-hand. Reports that Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma tested positive for COVID-19 together with Federal changes in administering statistics on the epidemic are the ghosts in this “breaking news!” machine. First, a pause to offer best wishes for a speedy recovery to Governor Stitt.

Second, what advantages are there for the public in changing the way we collect and report public health data and thereby exclude the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? Does this imply that the CDC is untrustworthy and perhaps culpable for the alarming growth of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States? The CDC is not perfect, but around the world, the CDC is justly regarded as the preeminent institution devoted to identifying and responding to infectious diseases.

Somewhere in the city and county of Tulsa, or the state of Oklahoma or the data collection apparatus of the federal government, critical and time sensitive numbers are being gathered and stored. But are those numbers being sorted, analyzed and disseminated to enable the critical task of contact tracing? July 17 news reports tell us that overall, Oklahoma saw 628 new cases and 729 new recoveries. The total number of confirmed cases is now 23,441.

Sifting among those numbers, it appears knowable that Governor Stitt did not contract the virus at the June 20 rally at the BOK Center. Evidently his case developed in the extended aftermath, and likely was identified by some form of contact tracing now in place and operating in Tulsa. That is good. Contact tracing works! It generates specific leads and gives us better data on the challenges the country faces.

That said, there are always ways to improve contact tracing and statistical modeling. What are the next logical steps we should take?

We know by reliable accounts that 6200 persons were in attendance at the BOK Center on June 20, all seemingly negative for the virus on that date. TV cameras showed few people were wearing masks and even fewer practiced social distancing inside the Center. This would seem to be a near-perfect setting for controlled observations to collect data on how the virus spreads.

Presumably each attendee was registered, cleared for attendance and submitted identification documents to the rally organizers. If those 6200 attendees would answer the following questions at this point, they would offer a bonanza of invaluable data to local, state and federal health officials.

How many of the attendees have developed health issues in the past 30 days?

Of those with health issues, what percentage were cold virus, influenza or COVID-19?

What percentage of those can be traced to attendance at the rally or traced back to it in some manner (noting that the Governor’s case seems to be an exception)?

Were or are there hospital admissions resulting from any of these diagnoses?

What is the current state of health of those treated for COVID-19?

Prior to this tracing effort, how many of the attendees were contacted about their health outcomes associated with the June 20 rally? What further results have been gathered to date on contact tracing of this population?

Where are those data available?

The answer to the questions above - or perhaps just as significant - the formulation of the questions themselves - could provide some much-needed insights into the mechanics and logistics of the contact tracing challenge ahead. Our experiences in other epidemics have been instrumental in advancing processes, procedures and treatments benefiting millions of people. Do not let THIS serious crisis go to waste; instead commit significant resources to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can. All of us should be able to agree that our Government can become better sharpshooters and more accurate straight shooters during this 100-year catastrophe.

Robert Plotkin
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What’s on YOUR mind?

Letters published in the La Jolla Light express views from readers about community matters. Submissions of related photos also are welcome. Letters reflect the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of the newspaper staff or publisher. Letters are subject to editing for brevity, clarity and accuracy. To share your thoughts in this public forum, email them with your name and city or neighborhood of residence to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. ◆