Following ‘F’ grade in preservation, City Council closes in on process for identifying historic properties

In a study session Tuesday, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council heard a plan for how the city might identify potentially historic properties and proactively inform property owners of their rights and options for possible preservation.

The city has grappled with the issue since a March 2014 “preservation report card” issued by the Los Angeles Conservancy gave La Cañada and 50 other cities in Los Angeles County a failing grade, in part, for its lack of an established preservation program.

That October, a mayor’s subcommittee was formed to create an inventory of historic places in La Cañada and adopt regulations that would catch and potentially preserve valuable homes before they were demolished.

In 2015, city officials approved increasing tax breaks for homeowners who registered their historic property under the Mills Act, providing an annual $20,000 in combined property tax deductions. Beyond that, La Cañada functioned on a case-by-case basis, requiring owners to conduct a historical analysis for all properties over 50 years of age when seeking a permit.

On Monday, Councilman Greg Brown said he and fellow Councilman Len Pieroni outlined a process for honing an “overly broad” standard by tagging historically significant properties before their owners visit the Planning Department.

The committee compiled local and statewide lists and databases and found about 30 notably historic properties and up to 100 potentially historic properties in the city. Weeding out designations not tied to an actual structure — like La Cañada’s first school in what is now Memorial Park or Palm Drive’s palm trees — refines the list to a workable number, Brown said.

“That gives you a starting point, in my mind, of where we ought to be going,” he added.

The councilman recommended a mechanism that would allow people to challenge the designation and argue for a site’s removal from the list, or for inclusion. If a property met two or more state-identified criteria, it could be considered historic.

“It would be black and white in the sense that you come in for a permit, you look up the address, you’re either on one of those two lists or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re at the end of the review,” Brown explained.

Pieroni said the proposal helps staff without creating an undue burden on homeowners of qualifying properties. Council members clarified a designation would not necessarily preclude renovation of a structure but would rather provide a vehicle for identifying and cataloging them.

They supported moving forward with the effort and possibly reaching out to owners of potentially historic properties with a list.

“It’s a big enough issue that we need to nail it down,” said Mayor Mike Davitt. “We should make efforts to preserve and protect our historic resources — it’s a good thing to do.”

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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