Comparison Shows an Outdated Historical Ordinance

Over the years many Lagunans have been critical of Laguna’s historical preservation program. On Oct. 18 the Planning Commission will try again to draft a revised ordinance. But there seems to be confusion and a lack of clear direction.

I called the historical preservation planners in Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Pasadena, Fullerton and Orange. It seems like we are living a bubble built on outdated ideas and dysfunctional regulations. Here is what I found:

None use the CKE ranking system. All follow the Department of Interior and state criteria.
They rely on individual initiatives and volunteer applications to register homes. All have private preservation societies that funnel grass roots private donations and support for historical preservation.
They rely on Mills Act as the only financial incentive. They do not waive or reduce permit fees.
They process Mills Act and registration at the same time. You get both or you get nothing.
None have perpetual “agreements” that burden your home forever. Mills Act is a 10-year contract
with termination rights.
Most do not waste money on outside consultants. They hire a qualified historical preservation planner who prepares the reports and processes applications. City Council approval is ministerial.
They have structured their historical preservation program to minimize or exempt CEQA jurisdiction over building permits.
None use “age” as arbitrary criteria for creating a huge “inventory”.
Some have homes registered on the Federal or State Registry and historical districts or “preservation zones.” Laguna has neither.

Based on my research:

CEQA does not mandate a city have a historical preservation program. Most cities do not.
CEQA has a long list of categorical exemptions, including local building permits unless the structure is on the Federal or State registry or a “local agency registry.” Once created, a registry locks the city into CEQA control.
CEQA does not mandate any age criteria.
CEQA does not prohibit a city from revising, abolishing its ordinance, or revoking registration.
CEQA does not require a local agency to force a home onto an inventory or registration.
CEQA gives maximum discretion to the local agency, including voluntary historical preservation programs.

Laguna Beach needs to break from the past. Start with a clean sheet of paper and build its own ordinance based on the best practices and lessons learned from other cities. The Planning Commission and City Council need to agree on a set of guiding principles based on the above findings.

Doug Cortez, Laguna Beach

Originally published in The Indy, October 13, 2017

1 Comment

  1. Hillary Cole on October 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    I just spoke with CA Dept of Parks & Rec (they administer CEQA). They agree with your points and that the City is going beyond the CEQA requirements.

    They asked for a copy of the draft ordinance (which I sent) so that they can give the homeowners some direction (and hopefully provide a legal opinion). The Planning Commission and the City Council rely on the city’s legal council and they are being given inaccurate advice. So our goal is to educate the City Council and Planning Commission on the REAL LEGAL intention of CEQA and what they are REALLY mandated to do, and not what an attorney who is not an expert in this field (the city’s paid legal consultants) “feels.”

    No more hiding behind “this is what CEQA makes us do…”

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