What started as simple routine maintenance on the Smokestack rapidly became much more complex and expensive. The Smokestack was literally falling apart due to the rebar inside the concrete rusting, allowing concrete to fall off in big chunks.
Nobody ever thought that the smokestack would ever need to come down, after all, it was designed to withstand a magnitude 10.0 earthquake. But repairs would cost millions, and the City of Concord wanted an expensive Environmental Impact Study before granting a demolition permit.
Latest Smokestack Update
Cowellian Blog - 10 April 2008
Over the past couple of months, I’ve attended several meetings, including the Cowell Homeowners Association (CHA) Board of Directors, as well as with other concerned homeowners within the Crossings. Here’s how the situation looks, as I see it, based on Board of Director reports, conversations with people whose opinions I trust, and a few outright rumors.
First, a little history
The smokestack was never designed to be either a monument or a landmark. It was built solely to satisfy the conditions of a lawsuit against the Cowell Portland Cement Plant. Although it was designed to withstand a 10.0 temblor, it was never intended to last forever. It was designed to last only as long as the limestone across Ygnacio Valley would, which probably would have been about the mid-sixties, had the plant not shut down.
The cement in the smokestack was treated to make it cure faster, but unfortunately, that process lets the rebar oxidize. And as it rusts, it swells, causing the cement around it to buckle. So now, the chunks are falling off.
When the area was being cleared for the housing developments to be built on this site, the Developer and Concord City Council decided to leave the smokestack standing. The homeowners were never a party to the agreement between the Developer and the City. In 1969, the City approved leaving the smokestack intact, based on a report stating the smokestack would be safe as long as the interior brick lining was removed and the exterior was coated to prevent oxidation. Neither action was taken by either the City or the Developer.
Although not a party to the agreement, the homeowners have taken care of the smokestack because it was here. That was never an issue until the last time a contractor was hired to perform maintenance on the smokestack. That’s when we found out that it’s crumbling.
Where we are now
Earlier, the City had agreed to let a developer tear down the Masonic Lodge without an Environmental Impact Statement (EIR), but a lawsuit by the Concord Historical Society convinced them to require an EIR. By then the housing market was in a slump, and the developer lost interest in the fight. SO, that issue has reached an impasse without being resolved. Nevertheless, the City seems a little reluctant to approve demolition projects without an EIR.
CHA had an engineering study done to evaluate the costs of refurbishing the smokestack or demolishing it. Since the original report was completed, the costs have continued to rise, but the cost of refurbishment has been substantially higher than demolition. Last year, the CHA requested a demolition permit from the City, but Concord refused to accept the request.
Concord, as the lead agency, could have done their own EIR for a lot less money than they’re paying the lawyer who is advising them. If the homeowners are required to do the EIR, it will add at least a year and a great deal of money to the project. However, Concord seems content to let the situation drag on for as long as possible. As long as the smokestack stands, hope springs eternal.
Concord’s Planning Commission is the agency that initially required the EIR, and which refused to reconsider when the CHA appealed. The CHA has since appealed that decision to the Concord City Council. The City Council scheduled an appeal hearing on April 22nd (see attached card); however CHA will be asking for a continuance. The City has decided to commission its own updated Engineering Study, and CHA wants the result of the study before continuing the appeal.
IF the Engineering Study determines that there is a structural hazard, the City can require the CHA to demolish the smokestack, and no EIR would be needed.
The cold, ugly facts
There is no money to restore the smokestack. Period.
• The homeowners certainly don’t have the millions of dollars needed to save the stack.
• The City of Concord, like all governments has other financial priorities. Contra Costa County and the State of California are both drastically cutting services.
• The Cowell Foundation was approached, but is either unable or unwilling to help.
• Concord Historical Society has told us that there is absolutely no money available for preserving historical structures.
So here we are, with a multi-million dollars problem, and no pleasant solutions.
Cowell Historical Society