City part of “shocking” 35 percent of cities with no legal protection for historic properties and resources.
The Los Angeles Conservancy released its 2008 Preservation Report Card last week, “grading” historic preservation policies of all eighty-nine jurisdictions of Los Angeles County.
The cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Santa Monica, South Pasadena, West Hollywood, and Whittier garnered top honors, receiving “A” grades for their preservation programs. Cities who have made the greatest improvements are Huntington Park, Los Angeles, West Covina, Calabasas, San Fernando, Manhattan Beach, Duarte, and Santa Clarita. Yet a shocking thirty-five percent of cities were cited as “preservation truants” for their utter lack of protections for historic resources.
L.A. County has an extremely rich and diverse architectural heritage that is surprisingly vulnerable, with cultural resources facing ongoing threats of demolition and insensitive alterations. The most effective protections for historic properties often lie in the hands of local government. Spanning over 9.9 million square miles, Los Angeles County has eighty-eight cities plus the county government, each of which operates independently and has its own protections—or lack thereof—for its historic resources.
For its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2003, the Conservancy released the first-ever countywide Preservation Report Card assessing how far local governments had come in protecting and revitalizing historic resources. The Conservancy conducted this comprehensive follow-up assessment in 2008 as part of its thirtieth-anniversary activities.
From May to October 2008, Conservancy staff interviewed representatives from each of the county’s eighty-nine local governments. They spoke with city representatives directly involved with the specific community’s planning review process, as well as staff members responsible for overseeing historic preservation programs in cities that have them. They also reviewed existing preservation ordinances and historic resources surveys.
Based on this research, the Conservancy used very specific criteria to “grade” each jurisdiction on the policies it has in place to protect privately owned historic resources. Criteria include whether the city has ordinances to designate historic landmarks and/or districts, how many of the city’s resources have been designated as historic, whether the city participates in preservation-related programs such as the Mills Act Historic Property Contracts Program and the Certified Local Government Program, and whether the city has surveyed its historic resources.
The Preservation Honor Roll
Cities with grades of A or A- have the strongest protections in place for historic resources. These cities have taken most, if not all, of the actions described above to safeguard historic properties. Here is a look at how these cities distinguish themselves as preservation leaders.
The city has a strong historic designation program that includes significant signs and trees and allows for the protection of not only local landmarks, but those included in the National Register of Historic Places. Several historic resource surveys have been completed for various portions and building types of the city, notably postwar resources.
Long Beach: A
Long Beach has all the elements of a good preservation program, which has been in place for a number of years. The city is currently making revisions to its preservation ordinance that will strengthen protections for the city’s historic resources. The city’s General Plan is also undergoing a comprehensive update that will include a new Historic Preservation Element. The first phase of Long Beach’s first citywide survey is underway.
Santa Monica: A
Santa Monica is in the process of updating its comprehensive citywide historic resources survey. The city offers incentives to owners of historic properties, including priority plan check processing and waivers of Certificates of Appropriateness and planning application fees. The city adopted a Historic Preservation Element for its General Plan in 2002, and it plans to conduct a substantive revision of its landmarks ordinance within the next year.
South Pasadena: A
The city has a “scorched-earth” provision as part of its preservation ordinance, which helps to prevent un-permitted demolitions. The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission is creating a public outreach committee to further promote awareness of historic resources and their maintenance.
West Hollywood: A
The city has an active Mills Act property tax relief program that uniquely allows owners of condominium units within locally designated buildings to participate. Owners of historic properties are offered incentives, including waiving permit fees and parking and setback requirements. West Hollywood also holds an annual event to promote historic preservation and the city’s architectural legacy. The city’s historic resources inventory is currently being updated.
A Whittier actively designates landmarks and historic districts and completed a historic resources survey in 2001, which covers one-third of the city. Whittier adopted a Historic Preservation Element for its General Plan in 1985 and updated it in 1993.
The following cities have made significant improvements in their preservation programs since the first edition of the Preservation Report Card in 2003:
Huntington Park: F to B+
Huntington Park has made tremendous strides and is the single most-improved city in the county. Since establishing preservation protections in 2006, the city conducted a citywide windshield survey of historic resources. One of the most notable provisions of the city’s preservation ordinance is the ability to designate significant public or semi-public interior spaces and signage. The Mills Act program was recently implemented with additional incentives. The city celebrates National Preservation Month each May by bestowing preservation awards.
Los Angeles: B+ to A-
The city established an Office of Historic Resources in 2006 that supports and coordinates the city’s preservation activities. The city’s Mills Act program is the second largest in the state with more than 380 contracts. Los Angeles has designated more than 930 Historic-Cultural Monuments and twenty-four historic districts (or Historic Preservation Overlay Zones). The city’s cultural heritage ordinance is currently undergoing its first major revision, and the city has launched its first-ever citywide historic resources survey, spanning over 880,000 parcels.
West Covina: F to C
Over the last few years, the city has implemented two important programs for safeguarding historic resources in the community: the citywide survey and the historic preservation ordinance enable West Covina to identify potential resources throughout the city and to create a register of designated properties that will receive substantial protections.
Calabasas: D- to C+
The city’s efforts to implement a full range of programs to protect the community’s historic structures and landscapes make it a notable model for surrounding communities. Calabasas’ ordinance gives the same protections to state and national landmarks as local landmarks within the city.
San Fernando: D- to C
The city has made great progress in establishing protections and incentives for the preservation and promotion of the community’s architectural heritage. San Fernando garnered a 2005 Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award for its Historic Preservation Element. The city adopted a historic preservation ordinance in November 2008.
Manhattan Beach: F to D+
The city adopted a preservation ordinance in 2006 that allows for the designation of local landmarks, although it currently does not provide any protections against inappropriate alterations or demolition. The council-appointed Manhattan Beach Cultural Heritage Conservancy has made successful outreach efforts to raise awareness of the city’s architectural heritage.
Duarte D- to D+
The city recently adopted a Historic Preservation Element for its General Plan that outlines objectives for developing a preservation program. The city has made ongoing efforts to establish a historic preservation ordinance and significant improvements are anticipated over the coming years.
Despite considerable historic preservation policy improvements made by many cities throughout the county, a shocking thirty-five percent of cities are “preservation truants” with a grade of F. These cities currently have no legal protections for privately owned historic resources, nor have they completed any surveys to identify potential resources within their borders:
Rancho Palos Verdes
Santa Fe Springs
City of Industry
Palos Verdes Estates
La Habra Heights
Since its scope is limited to public policy and the protection of privately owned resources, the Preservation Report Card does not account for other important aspects of preservation, such as how well cities implement those policies; the existence or success of efforts to preserve publicly held resources; or the commitment, drive, and influence of local advocacy organizations.
“It’s important to note that a low grade does not necessarily mean a city has done nothing at all to preserve its historic resources. Downey, for instance, really stepped up in the wake of last year’s partial demolition of Johnie’s Broiler,” said Linda Dishman, the Conservancy’s executive director. “On the other hand, cities with high grades don’t necessarily do all they could to safeguard their architectural heritage. The report card considers the existence and strength of preservation policies, not their implementation. We hope that the 2008 Preservation Report Card will motivate cities countywide to take pride in what they’ve done to protect their historic resources and do even more in the years ahead.”
The Los Angeles Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization that works through education and advocacy to recognize, preserve, and revitalize the historic architectural and cultural resources of Los Angeles County. Their 2008 Preservation Report Card is downloadable as a PDF file at http://www.laconservancy.org/issues/LAC_ReportCard08.pdf