Los Angeles’ Historic Preservation Overlay Zone ordinance, passed in 1979, allows a neighborhood to petition the city for designation as a historic district. If the designation is approved, any significant changes to structures within the zone require special approval from a panel made up of residents, a Realtor, a contractor and an architect.
There are currently 30 Historic Preservation Overlay Zones in the city covering a variety of neighborhoods and 25,000 properties. Another 15 neighborhoods are in the process of applying for this designation, but their applications are stalled. The city Planning Department, lacking the staff necessary to oversee the HPOZ process, has effectively put them on hold.
Unfortunately, as the L.A. Conservancy has noted, this is a particularly bad time for such delays because the housing market is heating up again. There may be a de facto moratorium on historic preservation, but there is no moratorium on new building and renovation.
The City Council should restore to the mayor’s budget four positions that the Planning Department requested for city planning associates who would be deployed to neighborhood conservation: Two would support the HPOZ process; two would work with other non-historic neighborhoods on so-called anti-mansionization efforts to prevent out-of-scale development that threatens the character of a neighborhood.
These preservation district requests come from the communities themselves, which must submit a petition of support from more than half the people in the area under consideration. A survey must also be done to determine if there is a concentration of historic properties in that area.
The 15 neighborhoods applying for HPOZ status cover a wide and diverse swath of Los Angeles including Carthay Square, Leimert Park, Atwater Village and the Holmby-Westwood neighborhood.
Moving forward on historic preservation zones should not be seen as an alternative to the extremely important task of revamping community plans for Los Angeles neighborhoods. That is a process that provides a way for communities to think about and plan more broadly for how they want to look and function, how densely they should be developed and how much traffic they can bear. The city might not be so far behind on HPOZ applications if it had invested in a smart community plan process earlier.
But for now the council needs to fund these positions or run the risk that some of those aspiring historic districts won’t have enough historic properties left to qualify.