City Has Authority to Customize its Historical Preservation Rules

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Editor:

Please attend the July 31 special council meeting to voice support of a new Historical Preservation Program (HPP) that is based on voluntary participation and private initiative. This meeting will focus on the discretion the city has under state laws to implement a new ordinance.

These facts show that the city has maximum discretion:

  1. Messages from senior planners at the CA Office of Historical Preservation have confirmed “there is no legal requirement that a city have a registration program or an inventory.”
  2. Over 400 California cities have chosen not to have an HPP. They are not breaking any laws.
  3. A survey of dozens of cities with HPPs show that each is starkly different, demonstrating that each city freely exercised their discretion to design an HPP responsive to wishes of residents.
  4. Neither CEQA nor the Coastal Act mandate a city have a historical preservation ordinance.

Lagunans do not want to be forced onto a registry, inventory, or survey without their consent. CEQA exempts home building permits unless the home is on the national or state registry, or on a local registry. The existence of a subjective “windshield” survey or inventory has been interpreted by some as a mandate to force your home into a costly and lengthy CEQA review process. Placing your home on a list of “eligible historic structures” against your wishes may be a wrongful “taking” and lead to unwanted litigation.

Other cities have clear ordinances that declare participation in any HP program strictly voluntary. Many cities rely up private philanthropic preservation foundations to motivate homeowners to preserve the historic character of their homes. Most cities use high national and state standards to select truly historic homes. Other have created “districts” or “preservation zones” to encourage private preservation initiatives while “immunizing” other homes from CEQA control. Many rely on the Mills Act as the only significant incentive. No other city has the onerous “agreement” Laguna demands of historical homeowners. This agreement is a huge disincentive.

Please speak out on July 31.

The council must accept the fact that we have total local control of this issue. The council should create a new “committee” chartered with the task of writing a new historical preservation ordinance from scratch, borrowing the best ideas from other cities while avoiding their mistakes, and complying with clear detailed directives. Those should include 100% voluntary participation, no surveys or inventories to avoid CEQA entrapment, insist on the state and federal high standards, grant Mills Act contracts concurrently with registration, and encourage formation of a private preservation society to drive private initiatives.

Doug Cortez, Laguna Beach

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