SUNNYVALE -- Mount Umunhum's radar tower, the five-story Cold War-era landmark at the center of much discussion and impassioned debates, will stay standing -- at least for the next five years.

After a spirited meeting over the fate of the structure atop the 3,486-foot peak south of San Jose, the board of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District unanimously decided Wednesday to leave it intact while money is raised to save it and $414,000 is spent on repairs.

"We should make a point to say that we want the tower to stay," said Nonette Hanko, a board member, who was the most vocal about supporting the tower's preservation. She had unsuccessfully lobbied for language in the resolution stating that the board clearly seeks to keep the tower.

At the meeting, project manager Meredith Manning said the option chosen by the board would allow the public to get up close to the tower for the first time in decades.

"The public has seen the structure from the Valley floor for a long time, but haven't been able to experience its shade, its size or put their hands on it," Manning said. "It would provide the opportunity to more fully develop the summit area, and for a short time at least, people could experience the tower."

Almaden Air Force Station historian Basim Jaber, who had led a petition drive that collected 2,200 signatures in support of the tower, had urged the board to go with the original option to preserve the tower.


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"It's kind of what we expected, but we were hoping for more," Jaber said of the decision. "Even if it's just five years, it buys us more time to go out and generate partnerships and get funds."

During the hearing in downtown Sunnyvale attended by about 200 people, speaker after speaker described the tower as a historical and geographical marker.

"You need to unambiguously and wholeheartedly go all in and say you do want to keep it or tear it down," said Sam Drake of San Jose. A smaller number, however, said it mars what could be a pristine natural peak.

Robert Garner, a self-described outdoorsman from San Jose, read from a piece he wrote that he said represented what the mountain itself might say: "In recent times, you moved into the Valley below me but placed boxes on my head, marring my beauty."

In voting to keep the tower for five years as it seeks funding and partnerships, the board rejected several alternatives.

Initially, the board was slated to vote on one of three options for the structure. One would have razed the building and returned the peak to a more natural state at a cost of $640,000. Another involved chopping it down to a foundation and a wall, with an open-air visitor center, for $817,000. The third option, preferred by those who see it as a valuable Cold War relic and historic learning opportunity, would have shored up the building and preserved it as a historical site, which would have run $1.1 million, with $750,000 in maintenance costs over four decades.

But on Friday, the district's staff report for the meeting revealed two new options: spending $414,000 on repairs or $74,500 on a fence, both in the name of public safety, that allows the tower to remain for five years as funding is raised.

No concrete figure was given for how much money supporters should aim to raise in the allotted five years. One board member has said it would be $3 million to pay for initial repairs, and ongoing maintenance and security, while district general manager Steve Abbors said an initial $1 million would be needed followed by another $25,000 each year.

Supporters already have an ally in former Oakland A's owner and Santa Clara developer Steve Schott, who stepped forward in July with an offer of $200,000 to help save the structure in hopes that the community will match his donation for a total of $400,000 -- approximately the difference in cost to tear down the building versus leaving it standing.

There is good reason why the board preferred not to make a final decision, putting the onus on supporters to help save the tower. Choosing to demolish it would have put them at odds with veterans groups -- something that would have made it tough to pass a planned 2014 measure seeking additional tax funding.

The air station, which opened in 1957, was used to scan the horizon for Soviet bombers before being rendered obsolete by satellites in 1980. It housed 120 Air Force personnel and their families at its peak, and included homes, a gym, garages and a bowling alley. The site was acquired in 1986 by the Los Altos-based open space district.