City looks at historic preservation

La Cañada Flintridge is moving forward with an ordinance that will allow qualifying owners of historic properties to receive a reduction of as much as 60% on their annual property taxes.

The Mills Act, governed by the California Office of Historic Preservation, provides a framework that allows local governments to create a tailored set of requirements and characteristics for historic preservation.

Councilmember Donald Voss, who chaired the council’s committee considering the move, said that applying the Mills Act to La Cañada Flintridge will help preserve the city’s unique character.

“It’s a way to foster an appreciation for the distinct history of La Cañada Flintridge, as manifested by certain buildings,” said Voss. “It’s a way for the owners of those buildings to be motivated or incentivized to help do that by providing them with a property tax break.”

Voss said that adopting the law will benefit the city by helping encourage the maintenance and active preservation of historic structures.

“There are a lot of restrictions that [property owners] sign up for … in terms of maintaining the building in a certain way, but it’s kind of a win-win for everybody,” said Voss.

Bradley Schwartz, a La Cañada Flintridge resident for more than 20 years, brought the Mills Act to the city’s attention more than a year ago. He said his efforts came from a love of historic homes.

“I knew of no program in La Cañada to try and maintain and preserve these [historic homes], and I had heard of some that had been torn down through the years,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said that in addition to his own purchase of a historic 1926 Spanish colonial home in the city, he knew residents of neighboring cities who spoke highly of the Mills Act.

“I knew there were surrounding cities, Pasadena, South Pas, etc., where the Mills Act was in place, and they take great pride in being a Mills Act city, and working with residents to maintain these homes,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz also said that he was happy to hear the Mills Act was a voluntary program, once a preservation program is put in place in a city.

“A homeowner can apply and be part of it, or not; it has nothing to do with imposing restrictions on people,” he said.

With most of the property tax abatement coming from state and federal tax grants, according to documentation from the California Office of Historic Preservation, the financial impact on the city will be minimal.

According to the city’s staff report, La Cañada Flintridge will annually forgo from $249 on a $750,000 home to $1,330 on a $2.55 million home.

Voss said that this low impact on the city’s revenue was an important factor in preservation program gaining approval here, and that if the program starts to impose a financial cost, it will be reevaluated.

“What we’ve suggested is — once we get to a point where the impact is $10,000 dollars a year, we should take a look and reevaluate the program and see whether we want to take it forward or limit it,” said Voss.

Voss said that in the long run, this is a cost the city is willing to pay.

‘We didn’t see $10,000 a year as being particularly burdensome; that is a fraction, a very small fraction, of the city’s overall property tax revenues,” Voss said, “and for that price tag, I think the historic preservation is well worth it,” Voss said.

City staffers are working out the details of the plan based on the California Office of Historical Preservation’s framework. When that is complete, the city council will vote on the finalized plan. Schwartz said he thought that probably would happen within a few months.

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