My South Laguna cottage: How I regained my property rights

My house was built around 1930 by my family. It was fondly called the barn, because it really was. Not much was ever done on the interior. It was a single-wall construction summer cottage. No indoor shower, no phone, sub wood floors, no heater, no interior doors except for the bathrooms. Over the years, the original windows were replaced with aluminum ones and skylights were installed (with a permit).

In the early 1990s, I took over the property and tried to make some more improvements, but money was tight. Finally, in 2011, I was able to hire a contractor to install new clad windows, fireproof the house with Hardback siding and drywall the interior walls. However, when I went to the city to pull a permit, I was told I was on the historic inventory and would have to install all wood.

I told city staff that the house is a teardown. Anyone buying the property would want to build a much bigger, better house. City staff told me there was nothing I could do about it. My house was now protected by CEQA and could never be torn down. And, it had to conform with the Secretary of Interior Standards for the treatment of Historic Properties. All news to me.

I then did some research on the city zoning requirements for historic resources. I discovered that you can volunteer to be put on the Historic Register and receive several benefits, but if you are on the inventory, you get nothing. You have to stick to all of the standards for the treatment of historic properties – with zero advantages.

That was nine years ago, when I first went to Larry Nokes. I was fighting for my property rights, and Larry dug into CEQA rules. After a long fight and many meetings, we did it – Larry and Let Laguna Live, a group of homeowners who banded together to fight for their property rights. I recently sent my plans for new clad windows to the city and they were approved. No appearing before the Heritage Committee or Planning Commission. I just needed to pick up the building permit.

It’s been a long, expensive road for me to get to this point, as it has been for many other property owners. With the help of the city council, Larry Nokes, and Let Laguna Live, my property rights were restored. It’s important that our City struck a balance between Laguna’s historic legacy and homeowners’ needs and rights.

Cynthia Brake
Laguna Beach

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