Oct 12

Umunhum Endgame

On Wednesday night the Board of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District will decide the fate of the Cube on Mt. Umunhum. In previous discussions about the Cube on Mt. Umunhum, three options have been discussed:

  1. Remove the Cube entirely
  2. Remove all but the base of the Cube, or
  3. Keep the Cube intact and seal the entire structure

I and most public respondents have argued strongly in favor of Option 3…preserving the Cube.

Today Mid-Pen posted the “board packet” for the October 17 meeting. (Warning, it’s a long document.) The document describes the decisions that are on the agenda for the meeting, provides the Board and public with detailed information about various options and the General Manager’s recommendations to the Board.

In addition to the three options that have been considered before, this document now describes two additional options for the Board to consider:

  • Interim Action A: Near-term repair and securing of structure while seeking external partnerships, and
  • Interim Action B: Near-term fence around structure while seeking external partnerships

Both options A and B would “provide time (approximately 5 years) for proponents of the tower to seek partnerships, outside funding, and other additional resources to allow for implementation of Option 3.”

Option A would make necessary repairs which would allow the public to come near the Cube, including sealing all external openings, replacing stairs and guardrails, and fixing cracks in the structure … but only on the first floor. Cost: $414,000.

Option B would simply put a temporary fence around the Cube to keep everyone away. Cost: $74,000.

I, for one, welcome these new options as an attempt at finding a compromise over the issue. However, I think both options are somewhat flawed.

First, let’s dismiss “Interim Action B”. It’s not worthy of consideration, either by those who want to save the Cube or by the Board. If the Board simply throws a fence around the Cube … without doing repairs … the optics are horrible for the Board. Public sentiment won’t be “oh, it’s wonderful that the Board is trying to save the Cube” … rather, it will be “they are hoping the roof falls in and does their job for them”. It doesn’t make anyone any happier, doesn’t take any pressure off the Board … and thus is both a political failure as well as an ugly sad mess.

Interim Action A contains a grain of a good idea, but as written is quite flawed. But I think it can be salvaged, and turned into something that I for one would heartily support.

What’s good about Option A?

It buys time.

It lets work to open the summit to visitors continue unimpeded.

Most importantly, it causes those of us who say we want to save the Cube to “put up or shut up”. If we think the money to save the Cube is easy to find … we need to get off our butts and help find it. I, for one, welcome that challenge … and will personally donate money and time to that effort.

What’s wrong with Option A?

First, proposal A – like B – doesn’t include any work to stabilize the Cube itself. It includes work to make sure people can walk up to the Cube without having something fall on them … but doesn’t include work to prevent the Cube itself from deteriorating over the next 5 years. Those who love the Cube will still worry that Mid-Pen is just trying to stall, hoping that the Cube will fall down or be so damaged by weather or time that there’s no option but to tear it down.

Second, the language of proposal A – also like B – is one-sided and antagonistic. It says, quote, “this is a new interim action to provide time (approximately 5 years) for proponents of the tower to seek partnerships, outside funding, and other additional resources to allow for implementation of Option 3”. No where does it say that Mid-Pen will help. No where does it say that Mid-Pen won’t hinder that effort. No where does it say Mid-Pen WANTS to keep the Cube. It simply says “OK, the clock is ticking … you activists better get busy”.

In short, it doesn’t cause Mid-Pen to buy in. By doing that it continues the cynical belief that Mid-Pen wants the effort to fail, and still wants to knock down the Cube. If that’s what they want, they can hinder the effort in numerous passive-aggressive ways. Want to give money to the effort, but want to meet the Mid-Pen staff first? Sorry, they’re out of town. Want to visit the site? Sorry, nobody is available. Want to see plans? Sorry, can’t find them today. Want to donate money, but only if the Mid-Pen staff and board are invested in seeing the Cube preserved? Crickets.

How could Option A be made viable?


1. The Mid-Pen Board needs to pass a resolution stating that they WANT the fund-raising effort to be successful, and the tower to be saved. Whether it will be successful or not nobody can tell … but they need to publically say that they hope it is.

2. The Mid-Pen General Manager needs to say, on the record, that he WANTS the fund-raising effort to be successful, and the tower to be saved. If the pro-Cube activist public still worries that Steve Abbors is working against them, not a true partner, this isn’t going to work. He needs to unambiguously buy in to wanting to save the Cube, not just kicking the can down the road a bit more.

3. Option A needs to include not just safety repairs, but also any other repairs urgently needed in the next 5 years to prevent further damage to the Cube itself. That makes it clear that this isn’t simply a stalling tactic. Those of us in South San Jose remember the debacle of IBM Building 026 all too well.

With two small changes to the language … and a 15 minute press conference … I think Option A provides a fantastic end to what could have easily been a very ugly situation. It gives us the option to preserve the Cube … and makes Mid-Pen a partner in that effort. The fate of the Cube will truly be in our hands.


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  1. Basim Jaber

    Brilliant! Simply brilliant! I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Kirk

    Wow, you really don’t get it. The Open Space Preserve does NOT want to keep the tower. Their goal is to preserve open space (hence the name). Buildings are closed spaces. Closed is the opposite of open. Get it? They don’t want the tower. But, despite that, they’re willing to give you guys a chance to save the tower anyways. That’s incredibly understanding of them! Now you want them to help you do it? That’s ridiculous!!

    1. sammydee

      I want them to commit to not get in the way. If the game is rigged, there is no point playing.

      If they truly can’t stand the idea of the cube surviving, then as I wrote earlier they need to sell the summit.

  3. Karl D

    Awesome Sammy! After wednesday maybe you and the SJMN can work on the Moffett hanger!

    1. Basim Jaber

      Geez, that’s a big order. :-) I’ve been at it already for 6 years now with Midpen. I have a feeling Hangar One would need longer. I do know the owner of that cause, though. Maybe…

  4. Dave Jenson

    Very nicely put! How can we get Mid-Pen to see it this way though; is simply showing up on Wednesday night enough or what consistent talking point message do we need to convey?

    Thank you!

    1. sammydee

      Dave, good question. I posted the comments I intend to make to the Board directly on Wednesday. I also emailed a copy of this “Umunhum Endgame” post to each of the members of the Mid-Pen Board as well.

      You’re welcome to reference my comments in yours if you like. Thanks! …Sam

  5. Basim Jaber

    Is Midpen expecting us to sink or swim? No cooperation on this from them? That’s it? Just punt and leave the field? This needs clarification. Telling tower proponents to basically “put up or shut up” and giving us “5 years” to do it is not a solution. There’s no “nolo contendre” in this. “Flawed” is right… these “interim actions” are unfounded and nothing more than sorry attempts at squelching a red-hot PR machine that has given tremendous visibility to this project.

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