After decades of waiting and years of planning, the future of Mt. Umunhum and its iconic Cube is about to be determined.
The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), the mountaintop’s current owner, has completed the planning process. They have solicited public feedback, analyzed various options, and determined their costs.
At their October meeting the MROSD Board is scheduled to decide the fate of the Cube atop Mt. Umunhum. Should it be torn down or left standing? Three options are up for consideration:
1. Demolish the Cube and return the site to a natural state
2. Demolish most of the Cube, leaving some walls from the first floor to represent where the Cube once was, or
3. Seal the Cube and leave it in place.
I think it is in MROSD’s best interests – and those of Santa Clara County residents – for the Board to choose a fourth alternative.
Public feedback as expressed at MROSD’s public meetings is wildly in favor of preserving the Cube. Many of us believe the Cube is important historically, as a legacy of the Cold War, and should be preserved on that basis. Others believe the Cube adds significantly to the South Bay landscape. In South San Jose we are lucky to have two “castles in the air” looking out for us – the Cube on Mt. Umunhum and the Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. For those of us in San Jose who live our lives under their gaze, for either to disappear would be a huge loss.
Yet the MROSD is reluctant to keep the Cube. While Mt. Umunhum is owned by their District, it is a distant outpost. The District stretches from Los Gatos to Pacifica. Most members of their Board don’t live under the gaze of the Cube, and don’t “get” it’s importance. Worse, since San Jose isn’t part of the District, the people that would be most impacted by the loss of the Cube have no voice in the decision. The Board represents many locations … but not San Jose.
Even more fundamentally, it is becoming clear that the goals of the Open Space District – to preserve Open Space, of course – are incompatible with the needs of Mt. Umunhum. The summit is a historic site and could be an attraction on par with Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tamalpais. The site begs for amenities – a Visitor’s Center, the Cube itself, historic interpretation, perhaps even Hang Gliding and Backpacking camps. This beautiful and historic site deserves to be treated as the gem it is.
But these buildings and amenities would be the antithesis of Open Space. MROSD is, after all, an Open Space District. As the saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. And so MROSD sees the structures and immediately their mindset is “tear those down”.
It’s becoming clear that the choice before the MROSD Board – keep the Cube or tear it down – asks the wrong question.
The real question is: should MROSD own Mt. Umunhum? I’ve become convinced that the answer is “no”. MROSD does a wonderful job at managing Open Space. But Umunhum’s summit should not be Open Space. It wants to be much more.
A more natural steward for the summit of Umunhum is the Santa Clara County Parks (SCCP). While MROSD’s charter is to preserve Open Space, the County Parks charter more strongly embraces educational and historic goals. County Parks has great experience providing historic interpretation, and Visitor’s Centers, and Camping, and even Hang Gliding.
Compared with any other comparable local District, SCCP is well positioned for this mission. SCCP is blessed with a dedicated Park Charter Fund providing it funding directly, outside of the County’s general revenues. And as it turns out, just a month ago the County Board of Supervisors re-confirmed that SCCP should focus its land acquisition efforts on sites of “County Wide Significance”. Umunhum clearly fits that definition. Even better, County Parks would be a local steward for the summit…not an absentee one.
I believe that MROSD should transfer control of the summit to SCCP. SCCP could manage the Cube and amenities at the top; MROSD could continue to administer the open spaces of the mountain. A true win/win situation.
There is ample precedent for this sort of cooperation between the two agencies. For example, at Rancho San Antonio the Open Space itself is owned by MROSD, but the lower parking and restroom developments are provided by SCCP.
If MROSD decides to tear down the Cube to turn the summit into Open Space, they guarantee themselves years of lawsuits and pain. It would be far better for them to admit that the site does not fit their mission, and instead transfer it to a more appropriate steward.
Update on September 24:
Thanks to Scott Herhold from the San Jose Mercury News for helping to promote this idea … and linking to this blog!
Scott’s “Save The Umunhum Tower” page is a great resource.
Also, please take a look at savethecube.org.