Historic preservation for unincorporated L.A. County sites gets initial OK

L.A. County's unincorporated areas could soon get regulations for preserving historic sites and buildings

For the first time, historic sites and buildings in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County will be eligible for legal protections under a measure that won initial approval Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to move ahead with preservation regulations that could be applied to qualifying buildings, neighborhoods and even distinctive geographic features. The proposed law, expected to receive final approval in the next few months, also will allow property owners who secure county historic designations to get tax breaks under a state law.

The measure will apply to private property in unincorporated areas of the county — including historically significant communities such as Altadena, East Los Angeles and View Park near Baldwin Hills — and establish a county Register of Landmarks and Historic Districts.

Any individual or organization with an interest in preserving a property — not just the owner — will be able to apply to have a site or neighborhood designated as historic. The elected supervisors, who collectively will have final say on the historic designations, and members of the county's Historical Landmarks and Records Commission also could nominate sites.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement that unincorporated areas are dotted with "many historically significant places, including the remnants of ranchos, the routes of early explorers and the homes and businesses of prominent people who shaped local history."

"The county has not had a system in place to encourage the preservation of these assets," he said.

The county is catching up to many big cities and other local jurisdictions that have long-established programs designed to encourage the preservation and upkeep of historic or culturally significant places.

In 1962, Los Angeles became one of the nation's first major cities to enact a historic preservation ordinance covering significant buildings, said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's Office of Historic Resources. The city extended protections to districts in 1979, said Bernstein, who helped the county craft its proposed measure.

He said the county regulations appear to be "strong, effective and balanced" and protect property owners' rights.

Not everyone was pleased with the county's action.

Jazz musician Reggie Carson of View Park said he and some of his neighbors attending Tuesday's board meeting were "diametrically opposed" to the ordinance. He said a designation of his community as a historic district could promote gentrification and drive out longtime, lower-income residents.

View Park resident Karen Martin said she was "very upset" at recent efforts to turn the neighborhood into a historic district, which she called a "smokescreen to drive up prices."

Ridley-Thomas said the residents were "misinformed" because Tuesday's action was to set up the system and not to designate anything at this time. County planning officials said the controversy in View Park has been fueled by a separate, unrelated effort to secure a federal historic zone in the area.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeanmerl

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