Letter to Napa Valley Register, published December 8, 2020.
“Napa County Landmarks was shocked to see that the former Chrysler-Jeep dealership at 333 Soscol Avenue was being demolished on Tuesday, Dec. 1. The modern “Googie” style dealership building was constructed in 1954 as the flagship building for the Gasser auto dealership.
As noted in a recent letter to the Register (“Save 333 Soscol,” Nov. 28), the building is a strong example of a style that is rare locally. It was in good condition and could easily have been adapted for reuse as retail space. The building was found eligible for historic listing in the Soscol Gateway/East Napa Survey performed in 2009, a study commissioned by the city of Napa and ultimately adopted by the City Council. The survey recommended the building eligible for listing as a Local Landmark based on its unique 1950s architecture. This survey is available for all to see on the city’s website.
Members of our board of directors were alarmed to see the story in the Napa Valley Register in early November that indicated this historic building was slated for demolition without consideration for the historical resource required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We immediately reached out to planning staff and City Council to alert them to this oversight.
How could the city planning staff fail to convey this information to the developer? CEQA requires an analysis of how a proposed development project would impact historical resources; i.e. consideration of historical resources is not optional but is required by law. City staff is well aware of these requirements; a basic step in the planning process would have been for planning staff to let the developer know about the historic status of the building when the project was originally proposed.
Mistakes happen and important things fall through the cracks in every government agency and business, but once NCL alerted staff and elected officials of this egregious error, it should immediately have been remediated. The city of Napa needs to answer to its citizens for their failure to follow the legal development process and their apparent contempt for our shared buildings heritage.”
Ernie Schlobohm, Napa
Editor’s Note: The Register asked the city about the issues raised by the author. Spokesperson Jaina French sent the following response:
“The City of Napa is aware of claims made by Napa County Landmarks that the City failed to follow the legal development process with regards to the former Chrysler-Jeep dealership at 333 Soscol Ave. The structure in question, which had been unoccupied for months, was demolished on December 1, 2020 after a months-long process for the building owner to receive City approval, secure permits and schedule construction.
“As a City, we very much appreciate the work of Napa County Landmarks and their dedication to preserving the integrity of our City’s historic structures and landmarks. However, we are very concerned with these inaccurate claims. The building in question, which was assessed as part of a 2009 City survey of historic resources, was not chosen to be placed on the Historic Resource Inventory (HRI). Therefore, neither the City nor the developer were in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines referenced by Napa County Landmarks.
“In 2016, the City of Napa updated the Historic Preservation Ordinance and assessed potentially historic structures based on the updated ordinance and the findings of the City’s 2009 survey. The property at 333 Soscol was ultimately not chosen to be placed on the HR and was therefore not a “historic building”. The 2016 adoption had the benefit of significant public involvement including multiple public hearings by the Cultural Heritage Commission, Planning Commission and, ultimately, adoption by the City Council.
“The City very much values our historic buildings and resources and takes pride in our governments’ decisions to preserve all historic resources listed on the adopted Historic Resource Inventory (HRI). As always, we continue to conduct business openly and transparently–if there are questions about this property or this message, please contact Vin Smith, Community Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.”