On Oct. 17, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District will make their final decision on the fate of the historic landmark Mt. Umunhum radar tower. The three options they have on the table are: 1 – tower removal, 2 – partial removal down to first floor walls (no ceiling), and 3 – “Retain and Seal”.
Option 3 is what the landslide majority of bay area residents are urging the District Board to vote for. More importantly, however, there should not be any other options introduced at the proverbial “11th hour” on the night of the 17th.
In the Board agenda minutes from July 25, one Director “questioned whether a fourth option could be considered where the radar tower is fenced off and exclude people from going near it. Discussion ensued.”
This fourth option should not be allowed by any means. This option cheats the public out of the true experience of what the tower’s history has to offer. It also means that by fencing it off, the District doesn’t have to “seal” the tower per their contractor’s recommendation for Option 3. A contractor indicated that by grouting and epoxying the existing cracks and damage from Mother Nature and by sealing the doors/vents/openings, the tower would be even more structurally sound than it is today. It already passes all county and state structural stability requirements due to its design to withstand the percussion of an atomic detonation as well as the 85.5 ton weight of the antenna sail above.
Leaving the tower fenced off “as is” (since its paint was already stripped off after the hazardous material remediation) would leave it susceptible to accelerated damage from moisture and freeze damage on the unprotected concrete.
This evasive fourth option also means the District will more than likely come back after their attempted 2014 bond measure (worth nearly $100M dollars) and try to tear it down after 2014. Think about it, why would they spend money repairing a tower they want removed? Because they don’t want to and they still want it removed and Options 1 and 2 would generate too much negative publicity for their bond measure efforts.
The solution is plain to see and the Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commission (HHC) is urging them to keep the tower. If the District elects Option 3 (retain and seal), they should play their cards smart and initiate the designation process to get the tower placed on the county historic landmark register. If successful there (and the HHC seems to want it that way), then the tower would be eligible for grant funding to renovate/repair it as a historic landmark.
In addition to the main radar tower, the other two elements that easily fall into the historic landmark status are the smaller height finder radar tower and the 100-man underground bomb shelter. The height finder tower worked in concert with the main search radar tower and matches the same historic landmark categorization. These towers are perhaps the finest and most in-tact remaining example of a Cold War radar “set” in the entire country and even beyond. The bomb shelter is the only one of its kind in the county and should be retained and sealed for future use as a Cold War exhibit park attraction.
All these attractions atop the summit of Mt. Umunhum should be owned and maintained by County Parks, not Midpen. Midpen can own the land and maintain the trails, benches, and parking lots, but the County enjoys a steady stream of funding for parks and recreation facilities which deem them more than capable of managing that aspect of Mt. Umunhum and making it a revenue generating entity.
Basim S. Jaber, a lifelong South Bay resident, is the historian and archivist of the Almaden Air Force Station, organizing reunions of veterans who served there and gives public presentations on the history of the radar station.