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Los Altos council addresses dilapidated Halsey House

Halsey House
Courtesy of Jeff LaBoskey
Halsey House, a historical landmark in Redwood Grove, has fallen into disrepair and has been closed to the public since 2008.

The Los Altos City Council accepted a $34,000 state grant during the Jan. 12 council meeting toward preserving Halsey House, a historical landmark in Redwood Grove that has fallen into disrepair.

The money would be used to fund a historic resource study of the property, and the city also agreed to contribute $16,353 from its park-in-lieu fund as part of its matching contribution for the grant amount.

However, the council declined to immediately appropriate an additional $25,000 from its park-in-lieu fund to pay an architectural consulting group for review of the site, opting instead to have its commissions review and formulate recommendations on the direction the city should take on preserving Halsey House.

The house was constructed in 1923 by Theodore and Emma Halsey, and Emma began planting redwood trees that still exist today, nearly 100 years later. The property was purchased by Los Altos in 1974 to use as a nature reserve and for recreational programs. The city council designated it a historical landmark in 1981. But by 2008, Halsey House was so dilapidated that the city closed it to the public.

Efforts to preserve the property have lingered on in recent years. In 2013, the council created a Capital Improvement Project for Halsey House to review the pros and cons of conducting renovations versus demolition and replacement with a new building.

“I want to thank the staff and my colleagues for being willing to work on an item where we’ve been kicking the can down the road for 12 years, and that we’re finally going to get somewhere,” Vice Mayor Anita Enander said after the council’s unanimous decisions.

Two studies have been conducted recently on the property: a 2015 feasibility report and a 2019 historical study, both of which generally concluded Halsey House could be renovated for future use. The 2019 report, conducted by Architectural Resources Group, the same group the council was considering asking for additional consulting, described the house as in “fair to poor condition, with many deteriorated materials and systems beyond their useful life span.” The report cited vandalism, damages to the roof, lack of accessible pathways and outdated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

But before committing additional funding toward the house beyond the amount in the state grant, the council wanted more information and opinions from its various commissions, including the Parks and Recreation, Finance and Historical commissions.

“I don’t ever want to see the house torn up,” said Marie Backs, president of the Friends of Historic Redwood Grove, an organization committed to preserving the property. “That’s just crazy. It’s a historic house and a historic family. The redwood trees are there because of that family.”

Enhanced police data collection begins

Los Altos is expected to begin collecting enhanced police stop data this week, acting city manager Jon Maginot announced. The data will include the perceived ethnicity and age of the person stopped, as well as the reason for the stop. This follows requirements set by the Race and Identity Profiling Act, and while a police department the size of Los Altos’ doesn’t have to begin reporting such data until next year, it will begin this year.

Following calls for increased police transparency and accountability last summer, the Los Altos Police Department released some statistics of its arrests from 2017 to 2020, but the data was incomplete, lacking, among other things, the reason for the stop.

Maginot said last week that the software enabling collection of the data has been installed in patrol vehicles and handheld devices, and that staff is finalizing the policy issues and training regarding data collection.

40 Main St. update

After losing a lawsuit filed by developers of a project at 40 Main St. who claimed Los Altos had no standing to deny the five-story project on the grounds that it didn’t meet the city’s zoning and safety code, the council is now beginning to work with developers Ted and Jerry Sorensen on options moving forward.

The city was forced to grant ministerial approval for the development last year, due to a judge’s order and state legislation that streamlines approval for developments that meet certain criteria in cities behind on their regional housing allocation numbers.

Enander and Councilmember Sally Meadows were appointed to an ad hoc committee to “explore development options” with the project applicants, Mayor Neysa Fligor announced.

Disclosure: Town Crier co-publisher Dennis Young is an investor in the 40 Main St. project.

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