Task Force Takes on Historic Preservation Rules

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As a 10-year planning commission member through 1993, a time when Laguna Beach annexed South Laguna and Laguna Canyon, Becky Jones played a role in shaping the town’s land use guidelines, including its original historic preservation ordinance.

Pat and Heather Sparkuhl live in a historic home that will be subject to new preservation regulations.
Pat and Heather Sparkuhl live in a historic home that may soon be subject to new preservation regulations.

This week, Jones and 10 others were named to a task force mandated to wrest consensus out of needed revisions in the city’s historic preservation regulations. It’s a responsibility that has eluded three other city-appointed committees, which have presided over a score of often-contentious workshops and hearings on the issue in the past two years.

“We need to come up with the magic mix that comes closer to bringing the sides together,” said Jones, after the hearing.

While Jones lacks proficiency as a magician, she worked professionally as a community college literature and communications teacher.

Nevertheless, she thinks the task force may possess the sleight of hand to succeed at crafting compromises within preservation regulations by taking a different approach. In past hearings, Jones observed that owners of historic properties seized the opportunity to air grievances about the law’s restrictions on their homes. Instead, she believes task force members, whose professional experience include architecture, real estate and construction, can explore the dilemmas confronting historic property owners and ask, “if this is a problem, what would have fixed it?”

Jones defines her responsibility as instilling protection and flexibility in the ordinance, which codifies incentives for preserving the city’s inventory of historic resources and requires compliance with state regulations. The city’s historic preservation regulations apply to perhaps 1,000 homes or 10 percent of the city’s housing stock.

Thirty-five people applied for appointment to the task force and council members Steve Dicterow and Toni Iseman met the applicants Tuesday, March 20, in an informal hearing.

They ultimately agreed to enlarge the task force to 11 when the council members surprised themselves by the outcome of their votes for 11 people in common.

Asked to define the task force’s mandate, Dicterow ceded wide latitude to its members. “It is up to the Committee to decide how they want to proceed. Their final product should be a recommended ordinance. How they get there is up to them.”

Iseman defined the task as moving toward consensus, finding incentives and understanding and clarifying the law.

Others selected for the committee: Marilyn Alexander, Jeffrey Benedick, Ann Christoph, Steve Fairbanks, Patrick Gallis, Norm Grossman, Michael LaRiche, John Loomis, David Raber and Dan Rosenthal.

Iseman encouraged those who were not named to the task force to participate anyway by attending meetings.

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