vet looks at building
Wayne Heimsoth is hoping various veterans groups can use the building at 4 Tait Avenue for meetings. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Wayne Heimsoth peered in the window of the terracotta roofed former home of the Los Gatos Art Museum on the corner of Tait Avenue and West Main Street.

In the midmorning sun last Thursday, he remarked on what appeared to be new carpet. The 77-year-old member of American Legion Post 99 is a board member of both the Los Gatos Veterans Memorial and Support Foundation and the Campbell Veterans Memorial Foundation. He envisioned what it would be like to hold meetings in the vacant building, which had just surpassed a key contract deadline for breaking the lease.

“We’d love to make it a veterans center for each of these three organizations,” he said minutes earlier in a nearby coffee shop. “Other organizations certainly can meet there.”

At Council on April 4, Town Manager Laurel Prevetti poured cold water on suggestions that the Tait building—as well as the historic Forbes Mill site—might be available for use as a homeless shelter.

“There were a couple of questions, such as, Why not Town property, such as Tait or Forbes Mill? And I just want to remind the Council that we are in a long-term lease,” she said. “And we’ve given our lessee another year to find tenants. So, this might be an opportunity in the future, but in the immediate term, we are under an agreement with that tenant.”

Then-mayor Maria Ristow said she was under the impression the properties needed about a million-dollars-worth of work each.

“I don’t know where we stand with that when we get to a year from now,” she said. “Are they even habitable if we do nothing?”

The standards would be different depending on whether the building was developed as a residential property or a commercial space, Prevetti replied.

“At this point they are considered commercial properties,” she said. “And we know that Tait, for example, needs significant upgrades to meet the Americans With Disabilities Act. And under the master lease agreement, the master leaseholder would make those improvements and then find a tenant to handle that.”

Councilmember Rob Moore argued against setting-up a shelter, and the Town instead established a voucher program to house homeless people during emergency situations, put in temporary public washing and restroom facilities and increased shower services.

Post 99 used to meet at a building with a meeting room on Vasona Lake, but they couldn’t rent it out enough to pay their bills.

In the end they sold it to Santa Clara County and it was demolished.

Since then, they’ve been gathering at other American Legion Posts and eateries, the latter presenting its fair share of challenges given their strict meeting protocols around flags etiquette and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“You can’t do all that in a restaurant without getting undue attention,” Heimsoth said. “The big thing is, we’re really trying to find a home.”

The Los Gatos Veterans Memorial and Support Foundation has been meeting at the Compass real estate office on University Avenue twice a month.

The Campbell Veterans Memorial Foundation has been meeting in someone’s home, but could really use an office.

“So, I’ve been planning this idea with the Town,” said Heimsoth, shifting back to the potential of the Tait location. “We’re hoping to rent it for a dollar a year.”

What he means is, he’s presented the idea, but didn’t seem to have gotten very far.

“The thing’s been empty forever,” he said.

Heimsoth isn’t just a Vietnam War-era veteran who served during that period in Germany, he continues to volunteer with the California State Guard.

“There’s no age limit in the State Guard,” he said, noting he’s attached to the 129th Rescue Wing based at Moffett Federal Airfield. “We drill once a month.”

At the end of December, they helped deploy a significant amount of equipment and personnel to Jordan.

“We do just routine things,” he said, thinking of their activities over the years. “We even had to destroy classified VHS tapes.”

Heimsoth told the Los Gatan that staff didn’t come across as eager to support his proposal.

On Nov. 11, Heimsoth sent a letter to the Town expressing interest in the Tait property, reminding local officials of how Council once allocated space downtown for veterans to use.

“Over time, our members could bring the building to a place the town would be proud of,” he said.

Prevetti replied to him through Executive Assistant Janette Judd, Nov. 13.

“Thank you for your interest in 4 Tait Avenue,” she said. “The Town is under contract with a master tenant for both Forbes Mill and the Tait Avenue property. At this time, the Town Council is not considering modifications to this arrangement.”

Ristow emailed him directly on Nov. 16.

“I appreciate your interest in the Tait site,” she wrote. “As indicated in the Town response, the Council is presently in an agreement with a firm to lease the building. Until that agreement lapses, we will not be making any new decisions.”

Heimsoth asked for a copy of the lease, and received it from Assistant Town Manager Katy Nomura on Dec. 5.

“Thank you for your patience as I had to look into this further,” Nomura said. “From my read, it does appear the provisions would allow either the Town or the Master Tenant to terminate the lease. At this time, the Town Council is not considering modifications to this arrangement.”

The Oct. 29, 2020 lease—with “Tait Firehouse, LLC by Imwalle Asset Management, LLC”—is contingent on the master tenant finding someone to rent the space.

“If the Contingency has not been satisfied or waived by Landlord on or before January 1, 2024, either Landlord or Master Tenant may terminate this Lease by giving written notice of termination to the other party.”

When asked by the Los Gatan if the veterans are ready to pay what the Town says it will cost to upgrade the facility, Heimsoth made it clear that’s beyond what they can afford.

“We would not be able to afford any kind of large investments,” he said. “Hopefully the building doesn’t need a whole lot.”

In a closed session report on Tuesday evening, staff reported that last week Town Council voted unanimously to break the 4 Tait Avenue lease.

Town Attorney Gabrielle Whelan said a new lease could be drawn up if that was the will of the Council.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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