Further Recollections on the Historic Preservation Ordinance

Anne Frank’s recent letter ignores significant historical events and misses the mark.

Historic Resources Element (HRE) of the Laguna Beach General Plan was adopted in 1981 to establish “a broad framework for both public and private efforts” and to outline “an implementation program of financial and planning incentives to promote long-term appreciation and preservation of historic resources.” To that end, the HRE contemplated adoption of a Historic Preservation Ordinance that provided for a voluntary, incentive-based Historic Register Program. According to the HRE, properties listed on the Inventory to be created “would be admitted [to the Register] at the request of the property owner” who could “take advantage of available incentive programs contingent upon proper rehabilitation of the designated home or building.” As originally conceived, the Inventory was a list of properties eligible to apply for the voluntary Historic Register Program and nothing more—an opportunity to receive “carrots,” but no obligation to accept “sticks.”

In 1989, that changed when the City considered adopting a Historic Preservation Ordinance to forcibly apply restrictions applicable to properties on the Historic Register to all properties on the Inventory (a list of properties merely eligible to apply). Effectively it was an attempt to subject all of these Inventory-properties to the proscriptions of the Ordinance without any application and without their consent. For many homeowners, especially those who purchased between 1982-1988 (without notice of the Inventory) there was pure shock.

At a City Council meeting on May 2, 1989, the City Council with Mayor Bob Gentry presiding, considered the adoption of the Historic Preservation Ordinance. I attended this public hearing along with over 200 other concerned property-owners. Mayor Gentry informed those present that the City never intended for the Inventory to be mandatory. According to Mayor Gentry, “[I]t was never our intent that this be anything but voluntary.” He also stated “why force someone to join a historic house list if they don’t want to?” Following comments by other City Council members, Mayor Gentry instructed that the proposed Ordinance should be returned to the City planners, “with the instructions that any private property placed on the list is done at the pleasure of the property owner, not the city.”

Eighteen years later, we are unfortunately re-litigating the same issues. Perhaps we should look to the past for guidance and do what most other cities do—have an Ordinance that is voluntary and incentive-based.

Curt Barwick, Laguna Beach

Originally published in The Indy, December 22, 2016

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