Commentary: Moving into the future by keeping the past alive

Almost every day, the majority of Californians face new reminders that we are in the grips of a housing crisis. Skyrocketing residential and commercial rents put tremendous pressures on local governments, businesses and residents. Our communities wrestle with how to respond, with little agreement over the best solutions.

In the wake of the housing crisis, battle lines have been drawn within California cities, sometimes pitting a neighborhood’s character and residents’ quality of life against the region’s demand for growth and adequate housing supply. It can often feel like we can’t satisfy both goals. However, I believe that smart policy can offer a consensus-building solution. For this reason, I introduced Assembly Bill 2263, my bill to help maintain neighborhoods’ historic character and sense of place, while incentivizing the adaptive reuse of existing historical structures for much needed new uses, such as housing.

This is an issue that has been a focus of mine for a long time — my career in politics began with historical preservation as one of my key issues. I was heavily involved with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee (ModCom) for many years, which led to me serving as a commissioner on Glendale’s Design Review Board. It was through this work that I learned to appreciate the intersection between the preservation of our character-defining structures and smart growth.

I’ve held onto that belief through my tenure on the Glendale City Council, as mayor, and now as your Assembly member. I remain dedicated to historic preservation in my community and state — but it needs to be balanced with a community’s need for more spaces to live, work and play. Development can be disruptive, especially when buildings that give a sense of place are demolished. On the other hand, forcing old buildings to stand vacant threatens those structures and the economic stability and livability of a community.

AB 2263 will incentivize the preservation and reuse of registered historic structures by eliminating additional parking requirements for residential use when located within half a mile of a major transit corridor, or allowing for a 25% reduction in required parking for nonresidential commercial uses.

These reductions can go a long way. The planning, development, and construction of parking spaces can add upwards of $40,000 to a project’s cost — an expense many projects cannot withstand. And of course many historical properties don’t have space available to add new parking. It’s often the lack of existing parking that dooms historic structures, rendering them obsolete and unusable. AB 2263 encourages the protection of our historic resources, while making their reuse economically viable. It gives the owners of these buildings less reason to tear them down and a huge reason to list them on historic registers.

This piece of legislation is the result of months of diligent work with historic preservation experts in our community and across our state, with the goal of incentivizing the reuse and adaptation of historic resources in our communities. It is modeled off of the city of Los Angeles’ adaptive reuse ordinance and one of Glendale’s historic preservation incentives.

This approach works. We’ve seen it succeed in our district. Back in 2016, in the heart of Downtown Glendale, the historic Masonic temple building was given new life when it was rehabilitated and adapted for much-needed office space. Prior to its reuse, the building had dominated the Glendale skyline but had remained mostly vacant for decades. It was literally disintegrating from neglect. With an ever-growing demand for real estate in Glendale’s bustling downtown, it would have been probable that this beautiful, officially designated structure built in the 1920s would have been torn down if held to the same requirements as the majority of new buildings — especially the parking requirements.

This incentive, when used throughout California cities, can play a vital role in moving us into the future without us forgetting our past. It would establish another direly needed avenue to incentivizing the addition of affordable and middle-income housing to neighborhoods. It will allow a way for communities to address some of their demand for growth while maintaining the character of the neighborhoods they love.

I am proud that my colleagues in Sacramento agreed with me and passed this bill earlier in the week. Now AB 2263 sits on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature. I hope he will agree this is a proven solution that will bring great benefit to communities across our state.

LAURA FRIEDMAN (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.