GPW: Self-Tempered Anarchy since 2009

Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
Send us your stories, ideas, and information. Insiders welcome - confidentiality guaranteed.

stories along The Way

Monday, August 3, 2009

Unresolved Issues with City's "update" to Cultural Heritage Ordinance

After forcing the City machine to approve Griffth Park as a Cultural Historic Landmark, the City is exacting a revenge of sorts on the Cultural Heritage Commission by "updating" the ordinance that allowed Griffith to receive this protection.

From Jane Usher, ex-Planning Commission chair:

The City's updated Cultural Heritage Ordinance will be acted upon by the City Planning Commission on September 10. Mark your calendars for this important preservation measure. The unresolved issue concerning historic interiors is discussed by Ken Bernstein below. Jane

Message dated 7/10/2009 2:48:44 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time from Ken.Bernstein:

Dear Jane,

I'm sorry that you found my previous response to be disconcerting. As I'd indicated in my last message, our staff report to the City Planning Commission did represent our best professional planning recommendation. At the June 11 CPC hearing, staff was asked by the Commission to look at the issue of interior designation, and to continue discussions with the development community and property owners.

The issue of the designation of private interiors is a very difficult one for planners and preservationists across the country because it raises both legal and practical ambiguities. This issue did not come up in our initial public hearings on the ordinance, nor in the deliberations of a Cultural Heritage Ordinance Working Group that met last year, but was raised forcefully by property owners in recent months and at the CPC. Our response to the CPC was based upon a review of "best practices" in dozens of local ordinances, and we have consulted with the professional staff at the State Office of Historic Preservation.

As we looked more carefully at these practices, we found that the cities we most admire for historic preservation -- New York, Charleston, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Sacramento, Philadelphia, and many others -- either limit designations to exteriors only or allow designations of only publicly accessible interiors. Pasadena does allow for designation of interior fixtures at its handful of Greene and Greene homes, but otherwise limits its designations to exteriors.

The new proposed ordinance language allows property owners to agree to include their private interior spaces in designations and automatically includes private interiors that are under Mills Act Historical Property Contracts and Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits. These provisions would provide more overall protection of historic interiors than is provided in the other major cities I've cited. I hope that this is helpful background in understanding why our staff recommendation evolved on this issue.