Does the Wet Suit You

By J.J. Gasparotti
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Historic Holdup 2.0

By J.J. Gasparotti
By J.J. Gasparotti

Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s historic.

Using age as a prime criterion to include a property on the inventory of historic resources casts too broad a net, and often impacts the rights of property owners for no public benefit. Almost all the properties on the inventory have no historical significance. It’s left to the owner’s expense to establish that fact.

This is the historic preservation ordinance our City Council is considering adopting.

Even those stacked shoebox houses on Arch Beach Heights will eventually end up on the inventory and require preservative review. Let’s look at the effect this ordinance will have on properties reaching the magic age.

For owners of a stacked shoebox house wanting to replace their leaking flat roof with a gently pitched roof, a sojourn to the city’s Design Review Board (DRB) is required for the new roof. The DRB considers the proposal.

“The historic committee must review this project to render their learned opinion on the effect this proposed pitched roof has on the neighborhood character’s historic unifying design theme of flat-roofed stacked shoebox design, in order to guide and inform our August decision as Design Review Board members, whom are entrusted with preserving both the neighborhood character and the village character from the depredations of overdevelopment or garish and conflicting design,” remarked one of the board members, briefly.

The owners of a 1950s tract-style house recently went to the city wanting to enlarge and improve the energy efficiency of their windows and doors. Rather than being able to get the over-the-counter permit, the zoning department informed them they’re on the historic inventory. They’ll need a lengthy review of any possible architectural issues for the “iconic mid-50s tract design.”

These owners have become stuck in an entitlement quagmire. Private consultants and city fees may cost more than any actual work proposed.

They could hire some self-certified expert historic consultant to assess their property and issue a report showing that it isn’t a historic resource subject to preservation requirements after all. That’ll cost a bunch. It might even work.

People who can pay will use the consultant. People who can’t pay will endure the machinations of some committee doing its best, badly. A lot of folks will just forget the whole thing.

These owners will all suffer because the city maintains a historic inventory bloated with old properties that aren’t even historic. That inventory grows every year.

That’s what all the fuss is about. This proposed ordinance is just another tool to restrict property improvements and inhibit change. Call it “mass obstruction through preservation.”

How old is your house?

J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.

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  1. J.J. – Thanks for shining a light on this issue. Historic preservation of private homes should be voluntary, and require owner consent.

  2. Spot on ! The bureaucracy is getting like the Steve McQueen movie “The Blob” growing! Growing ! Growing! Only way to stop it ,Freeze It.


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