Over the years many Lagunans have been critical of Laguna’s historical preservation program. On Oct. 18 the Planning Commission will try again to draft a revised ordinance. But there seems to be confusion and a lack of clear direction.
I called the historical preservation planners in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Pasadena, Fullerton and Orange. It seems like we are living a bubble built on outdated ideas and dysfunctional regulations. Here is what I found:
- None use the CKE ranking system. All follow the Department of Interior and state criteria.
- They rely on individual initiatives and volunteer applications to register homes. All have private preservation societies that funnel grass roots private donations and support for historical preservation.
- They rely on Mills Act as the only financial incentive. They do not waive or reduce permit fees.
- They process Mills Act and registration at the same time. You get both or you get nothing.
- None have perpetual “agreements” that burden your home forever. Mills Act is a 10-year contract with termination rights.
- Most do not waste money on outside consultants. They hire a qualified historical preservation planner who prepares the reports and processes applications. City Council approval is ministerial.
- They have structured their historical preservation program to minimize or exempt CEQA jurisdiction over building permits.
- None use “age” as arbitrary criteria for creating a huge “inventory”.
- Some have homes registered on the Federal or State Registry and historical districts or “preservation zones.” Laguna has neither.
Based on my research:
- CEQA does not mandate a city have a historical preservation program. Most cities do not.
- CEQA has a long list of categorical exemptions, including local building permits unless the structure is on the Federal or State registry or a “local agency registry.” Once created, a registry locks the city into CEQA control.
- CEQA does not mandate any age criteria.
- CEQA does not prohibit a city from revising, abolishing its ordinance, or revoking registration.
- CEQA does not require a local agency to force a home onto an inventory or registration.
- CEQA gives maximum discretion to the local agency, including voluntary historical preservation programs.
Laguna Beach needs to break from the past. Start with a clean sheet of paper and build its own ordinance based on the best practices and lessons learned from other cities. The Planning Commission and City Council need to agree on a set of guiding principles based on the above findings.
Doug Cortez, Laguna Beach