Letter: Historic Preservation Key to Controlling Massive Redevelopment

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What do historic preservation, block-long developments, and the reduction of commercial parking requirements downtown have to do with one another? Everything.

On Tuesday, the City Council will vote to gut its historic preservation ordinance, which would eliminate protections for hundreds of identified historic resources. People who love Laguna should ask Council to reject these changes to the preservation program. Here is why doing so is worth your time.

Laguna’s unique character is intimately tied to the quality and integrity of its architectural heritage. Our historic built environment is so outstanding that the National Park Service recognized the entire city, along with its greenbelt, as a “Historic American Landscape,” the only one in Orange County.

Big developers have Laguna in their sights. The Liberate Laguna PAC made “voluntary” preservation one of their primary goals because of the enormous benefits developers would reap.

Some sixty properties along Coast Highway were given “E”- or “K”-ratings, often multiple buildings on a single block, as part of the updated inventory in 2014. These could be demolished and redeveloped without environmental review of historic resource impacts. What do you think would take their place? Compare the east and west sides of the 1100 block of South Coast Highway? Which contributes more to the unique character of Laguna?

The Council says it supports voluntary preservation, but it recently eliminated the most important preservation incentive for commercial buildings downtown by drastically reducing business parking requirements. And Council’s most recently appointed Heritage Committee members try to dissuade owners from putting their properties on the Register voluntarily.

Council also says the Design Review Board will ensure Laguna retains its look and feel. Does anyone still think that, given the philosophy behind recent appointments?

Laguna Beach’s existing Ordinance requires the City to disclose project impacts to historic resources and either mitigate substantial adverse impacts or consider project alternatives. Preservation does not prevent change, which is why there is so much National Park Service guidance on how to alter historic resources.

Laguna can certainly improve its preservation program. Please ask Council to fix the ordinance, not gut it. Please tell them what visual impacts to our community you think the demolition of buildings on Coast Highway or Forest or other streets would result in. Tell them how our unique buildings make our Laguna at [email protected]

Catherine Jurca, Laguna Beach

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