The Los Angeles Conservancy recently released its 2008 Preservation Report Card, “grading” the historic preservation policies of all 89 jurisdictions of Los Angeles County. Santa Monica, along with the cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, 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. Despite these many improvements, a shocking 35 percent of cities were cited as “preservation truants” for their utter lack of protections for historic resources.
Linda Dishman, the Conservancy’s executive director said, “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.
“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,” she continued.
From May to October 2008, Conservancy staff interviewed representatives from each of the county’s 89 local governments regarding each 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 their 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
* 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.
* Long Beach (A). Long Beach has 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.
* Los Angeles (A-). See “Most Improved,” below.
* Pasadena (A). 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.
* South Pasadena (A). The city has a “scorched-earth” provision as part of its preservation ordinance, which helps to prevent non-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 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.
* Whittier (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 are examples of those that 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. 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 24 historic districts. 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.
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. The current report card is available as a downloadable PDF file from the Conservancy’s website, laconservancy.org.