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Laguna Beach adopts historic preservation ordinance, amending current program

The Main Street Bar at 1450 South Coast Hwy. in the village district of Laguna Beach.
The Main Street Bar at 1450 South Coast Hwy. in the village district of Laguna Beach is included on the 1981 Historic Resources Inventory.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After years of public workshops and meetings, Laguna Beach City Council members adopted an ordinance that will return the city’s historic preservation program to being voluntary.

The ordinance removes the city’s current inventory of historic structures from 1981, which was acknowledged in the 1989 historic preservation ordinance.

Efforts to update the historic register began in 2013 as the register became outdated, with many of the structures listed having been modified or demolished in addition to the erection of new properties.

Updates include the usage of state codes to replace the local historic rating system, concurrent review of applications for the historic register and incentives, elimination of age of the property as a criterion and changing when design review is required for historic properties.

It also clarifies the definition of a historic resource and expands the incentives provided to property owners, while adding “owner consent” as a criterion of eligibility for the city’s historic register.

“We’ve heard a lot of good testimony on both sides,” Mayor Bob Whalen said before the vote. “I think resetting this ordinance back to its roots of a voluntary program is what the majority of council has been saying since 2018. I think we need to continue through with that tonight.”

Councilwoman Toni Iseman voted against the ordinance, and a resolution revising the city’s general plan, residential design guidelines and local coastal program. The state Coastal Commission will need to certify the amendment to the latter.

“Our old way of doing business wasn’t the problem. The old way of implementing what we had was the problem, so people did not understand the value of historic designation,” Iseman said, reiterating her position on the review of the ordinance on July 14.

“What I’m concerned about is how do we let people know the value of owning the historic nature of their property and utilizing it and maximizing its benefit?” Iseman said.

The councilwoman made a motion to direct city staff to create an educational and promotional program to inform Realtors and architects for new homeowners on the benefits of being included on the city’s historic register, which was approved as part of the actions taken Tuesday.

Councilman Peter Blake dissented on the motion.

The program was developed as part of Laguna Beach’s economic recovery and business development plan to stimulate the local economy.

Whalen agreed with Iseman on the creation of an education and promotion program on incentives, adding that he felt there would be a lot of homeowners in the future that might consider the historic preservation program because of housing costs.

Clerical revisions were made to the ordinance after the July 14 meeting, largely correcting misspellings and more clearly restating information on when determinations for the historic register begin and are recorded and the role of the Heritage Committee in the design-review process for historic properties.

Residents that spoke on Tuesday were both in support of and against the ordinance, with some thanking the council, while others raised concerns about possible environmental impacts. Opponents were largely against the voluntary nature of the program, arguing that it would allow for the destruction of the city’s history.

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