Board swats plan to give ballfield 'historic' status

Historic Resources Board rejects application to add Little League site to historical inventory

Since it opened its diamond to the community more than six decades ago, the Palo Alto Little League field on Middlefield Road has become hub of big dreams and cherished memories for generations of local sluggers.

That, however, was not enough for the south Palo Alto field to win a designation to the city's Historic Inventory. Instead, the city's Historic Resources Board rejected on Wednesday a proposal from a nearby resident, Jason Yotopoulos, to officially recognize the field in the city's Historical Inventory.

In voting 5-1 against the designation (with Beth Bunnenberg dissenting and Patricia Di Cicco absent), board members acknowledged the beloved status of the Little League field, which opened in 1952 in a ceremony featuring Ty Cobb and Glenn "Pop" Warner. Board members David Bower and Roger Kohler each recalled playing at the field, with Kohler calling it "quite a landmark."

Nevertheless, the board members questioned both the merits of the proposal and Yotopoulus' motivation for making it. The fact that Palo Alto Little League, which owns the property, opposes the historical designation was a major factor in the board's decision. Amy French, Palo Alto's chief planning official, said this is the first time that she's aware of that a proposal for historical designation is coming forward against the property owner's wishes.

Though state and federal laws prohibit the designation of properties on their respective historical registries without the owner's approval, Palo Alto has no such prohibitions. Under local law, an interested party can seek a historical designation over the owner's objections, said Cara Silver, assistant city attorney.

In this case, however, city staff argued that the field has already undergone so many design changes and renovations since its founding that its historical integrity is compromised. Members of the Little League board of directors made a similar argument and provided the board with then-and-now photos of the baseball field, underscoring the differences.

Yotopoulos maintained in his application that the site's "cultural landscape is often overlooked when one just looks at the buildings." The ballpark, he told the board, is one of the first in California and represents both the spreading of Little League baseball to the West Coast. It also, he argued, epitomizes the ability of a visionary community to finance a ballpark that, 62 years later, remains as successful as ever. It was intentionally placed in a residential area and it ended up being "an anchor" to the community as the local development pushed southeast in the 1950s, he said.

"The field is truly exceptional and still treasured to this day," Yotopoulos wrote in his letter to the board. "It is difficult to overestimate what Little League was to the community in the '50s; it was the focus sport locally for youth. This meant that the community rallied around this property, with merchants sponsoring teams, dinners being planned around evening game schedules and a full roster of majors, minors, weekend games, even full local radio and newspaper daily coverage of the games."

Also speaking in support of the site's historical significance was Herschel Cobb, grandson of the legendary slugger Ty Cobb. Herschell Cobb made case for giving the field a historical designation, calling it an "important part of a community." Once these types of community resources are gone, he noted, they are gone forever.

"The basic idea that you have a site here that's been of historic significance to members of the community is kind of undoubtable," Cobb said.

Yotopoulos also cited a 1998 study by Dames & Moore listing the ballfield as one of the site that can be "potentially eligible" for historic designation. But the board generally agreed that while the ballpark may one day get a historical designation, now is not that time.

Board member Martin Bernstein said Little League's opposition alone should be enough to halt the designation process. The photos provided by Little League further underscored the idea that the ballpark's historical integrity has been greatly compromised over the past 60 years.

Mark Priestly, secretary of Little Leagues board of directors, was one of several board members to argue against the designation. Almost everything at the ballpark has been replaced or modified, he said. And the field needs to continue its evolution, he said, something that might become more burdensome if the site is deemed historical.

"We can't be stagnant. We can't be a museum," Priestly said. "We need to be able to evolve, which is what we've done."

Others, including Little League board president Kristin Foss, questioned Yotopoulos' motivation for seeking the historical designation. They noted that he is one of the major opponents of a proposal by Verizon to install a cellular antenna on a 65-foot light pole in the ballpark. That proposal has split the adjacent neighborhood, pitting whose who want better cell service against those who see the new cell equipment as a visual blight.

Yotopoulos, an SAP executive who lives across the street from the field, has spoken out at recent public hearings against Verizon's plan for the ball field – the latest iteration in the telecom giant's two-year quest to upgrade its wireless equipment. His and his neighbors' opposition to the plan prompted the Architectural Review Board to defer its expected approval of the Verizon plan until Oct. 16.

Yotopoulos readily admits that he opposes the Verizon plan, though he maintained on Wednesday that his purpose in seeking the historical designation has more to do with a "due process." The board, not Verizon's consultants, should be the arbiters of whether the site is historical, he said.

This wasn't enough to assuage the board's concerns.

"I am deeply troubled by the fact that Mr. Yotopoulos has a strong problem with the cell tower and that it's very clear in our documents that it probably drives a large majority of his energy to getting this property designated as a historical site," said board member Bower.

Bunnenberg urged the board to continue its discussion until after it considers other options for historically recognizing the site. Simply saying that the ballpark is not historic would "close the door" on the discussion, she argued.

"It would be a rush to decision to make a judgment that this property is not historic," she said.

The rest of the board, however, had no problem recommending against the designation, with Margaret Wimmer joining Bernstein in voicing concerns about infringing on the property owner's rights. Not having the property owner's consent, she said, makes it "very difficult to support the application."

"I think it is a potential future candidate" for historical designation, Wimmer said. "But at the moment, it's clouded with some other issues."

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3 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2014 at 10:38 am

This is an example of fair, smart and reasonable people making the right decision in City of Palo Alto government. Let's remember this the next time we complain about the "Palo Alto process".

3 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2014 at 10:47 am

They will just have to resort to wearing their tinfoil hats and lining their homes with Mylar.

2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

The motivation to try such a "hail mary" obstruction was terribly obvious.

Not even a "nice try" for this one. Glad the board saw through this thinly veiled attempt.

Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

This is one of those issues where I feel a bit conflicted. If there is a one in a million chance that the cell tower would be harmful to the kids playing baseball or the neighbors living there, I would not be in favor of it. On the other hand, where my house is located in Midtown is a complete cell phone dead place. I have Verizon and have to run out to the driveway if someone calls me. Inside the house - dropped calls and "Can you hear me now?" So I have hopes that the cell tower would make things better. And, it's not just my personal cell phone. Guests have the same problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Sylvia, the good news is that there isn't a one in a million chance the tower will be harmful to children, so you don't have to worry!

Like this comment
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

Only one flaw in this article. The "Split" in the neighborhood is 4 families against the cell tower and 300 families in favor. Thanks to the Historical Resources Board for not bowing to the wishes of the vocal obstructionist minority. The cell service in south Palo Alto is TERRIBLE! The further your phone has to 'reach' to find a tower, the more energy it releases next to your head. That's the source of radiation problem -- not a tower 65 feet up and across the street sending out the wattage of a light bulb.

2 people like this
Posted by That's a Lie
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm

There are a lot more than four families against the cell tower at the ballpark. I'd like to see the list of 300 families that are in favor of it.

People should get the facts before making a rush to judgement about what the controversy is about. The facts won't be found on an online forum.

Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 16, 2014 at 3:12 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm

The Cell Tower could have been built in a commercial or industrial location nearby,not in a Little League ball park within a residential area.

Would that have been so much more expensive?

1 person likes this
Posted by Ken Allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 16, 2014 at 5:13 pm

As President of the Adobe Meadow Neighborhood Association, I have polled the immediate neighbors as well as others in the blocks adjacent the Little League ballpark. I have also hosted a couple of neighborhood informational meetings and attended the public hearings, including the HRB hearing yesterday and the ARB hearing today, which also put its stamp of approval on the project.
I respect the opponents but I do not find any continuing merit in their arguments against this project. Over the nearly five years this project has been under consideration, I have seen no change in attitude or position regarding this particular service provider by the principal opponents who live along Middlefield despite very expensive redesigns and relocation of facilities and other accommodations by the Little League and the representatives of Verizon. They are repeating now irrelevant arguments, getting the facts wrong and citing faulty studies. There are other, less vocal but nevertheless respectable opponents to the project. However, the vocal opposition has lost credibility. Others who were once opposed have indicated to me that it makes no longer makes sense to oppose it after the accommodations offered. If there were sound grounds in our neighborhood to oppose the project, then I would also oppose it. But I do not. There is no emissions problem from the cell tower. A cell phone emits much stronger radiation next to the ear than a tower at any distance--25,000 times greater. Besides, the City has no jurisdiction over emissions issues. The aesthetic impact is minor. An existing light tower is to be replaced and upgraded. There is virtually no safety or noise issue with the equipment shed. It is to be built far from residences, is flood proof, fire proof, earthquake proof and designed to blend in with existing structures.

A light pole/antenna configuration was already approved for another vendor several years ago without any such opposition. The alternatives are actually far less desirable. There have been discussions about placing a 125' high tower with a Christmas tree-like array of antennas in the power substation that is between the ball park and the fire station. It would loom ominously over the entire park, school and neighborhood but certainly provide great coverage. Co-location of an antenna array with the Sprint antenna inside the thick flagpole at the fire station is not physically possible with the current design. The current proposed location is clearly a good compromise and is probably on the most innocuous site in the area that can provide the widest coverage in the large residential "black hole" that is South Palo Alto. Besides, revenue will provide much needed funding for our Little League facility. With nearly 40% of residents relying solely on cell services for all sorts of telecommunication, it is time to move on and let the construction begin. End the filibuster, the obfuscation, the bogus petitions for restrictive historic designation and the threats of lawsuits over loss in property value due to noise, radiation, safety and aesthetic damage, and stop the misplaced arguments that due process has not been followed!

1 person likes this
Posted by TheWrongApproach
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 16, 2014 at 5:28 pm

1. Cell phone service is not a right. If one lives in a 'dead zone', well that is just too bad. There is nothing anywhere that says that "there will be cell phone coverage for everyone everywhere." Get a land line.
2. That being said, to stop a cell tower (or anything else for that matter) by trying to get the property designated historic, particularly against the desires of the property owners, is in essence stealing - an unfair 'taking' of property rights.
3. But let's worry about this instead. What happens if someday the owner of the property (the Little League) decides to sell? What then? It will not be the same as the Buena Vista trailer park - it is not a business but a recreational area. Will the citizens of Palo Alto want to keep that property as open space "parkland"? Will we be prepared to vote for a bond to raise the money to purchase it and keep it from being developed?

2 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2014 at 6:25 pm

"Cell phone service is not a right. If one lives in a 'dead zone', well that is just too bad. There is nothing anywhere that says that "there will be cell phone coverage for everyone everywhere." Get a land line."

The same argument can be used about land lines (all those ugly poles, tree trimming, and radiation from the wires, etc.). Poor argument.

I think the Little League played its politics pretty smartly on this issue. They are to be commended.

4 people like this
Posted by Mikrowelle Ingeneuer
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm

The people most affected by this are the children playing baseball in close vicinity. Microwave towers should be placed in locations where there are no people in close proximity!

Like this comment
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2014 at 1:07 am

it would of been interesting to see some of the historical photos as compared to what the ball field looks like today. I would assume the "main distinguishing feature" which I take to be the clubhouse is more or less the same as from the 50's. I don't think every single element needs to be original for the "overall" to qualify as historic. As a kid in the 1980's I always thought of that place as having a distinctly 1950's character as if it could be the setting for a 'Happy Days' episode (or at least a 1970's rendition of the 1950's).

While I understand why the city is not in a position to designate it as historic I think there is plenty of merit to the argument it should be given some sort of historic recognition (regardless of what they suspect Mr. Yotopoulos's motivations to be).

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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