City moves closer to preservation

Owners of historic La Cañada Flintridge properties may soon be allowed to take advantage of a significant property tax break, as the Planning Commission last week voted unanimously to recommend the approval of a Mills Act historic preservation program here.

“The next steps now are to flesh out a process and a procedure,” said Councilman Don Voss, who as mayor last January formed the initial exploratory committee. “But I wouldn’t want to put a timeline on that.”

The program, which will allow qualified owners to apply for a property tax break of between 40 and 50%, will now head to city staff for refinement. After the plan is deemed complete, it will be presented to the City Council for final approval.

Although the City Council endorsed the program earlier this year, the matter was before the Planning Commission because that body will be overseeing the application process and enforcement, Voss said.

“The avenue we chose was to have the Planning Commission manage it and be the ones who are in the driver’s seat, in terms of approving Mills Act properties or not,” Voss said.

Planning Commissioner Herand Sarkissian said that before issuing its approval, the commission wanted to make sure that implementing the plan would not adversely impact the La Cañada Unified School District’s budget.

“We did extensive research making sure that our schools would not suffer at all [from reduced property taxes], and we discovered that the schools are not affected,” he said.

The commission decided to place a $10,000 cap on the program for now, with each approved home likely to impact that budget by $1,000 to $1,500, according to Sarkissian. More than 90% of the property tax reduction comes out of the state budget, lessening the impact on La Cañada.

Sarkissian noted the Mills Act is a voluntary measure, one factor that led to the commission’s approval.

“It’s a perfect tool because it doesn’t impose any mandate on anybody. It’s voluntary, they get the benefit, but they have to decide on their own that they want to list their homes,” said Sarkissian.

Voss said that with the Planning Commission’s approval, city staff can now work out the plan’s details.

Resident Bradley Schwartz, who brought the Mills Act to the City Council’s attention, said he is happy to see the support the plan had been garnering, but he agreed with Voss that the plan still isn’t close to implementation.

“There’s still work to be done; ultimately, there needs to be a contract, for example, that homeowners enter into with the city,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz said that he is gratified to see how much support the plan received from city officials.

“I don’t know how much longer it takes from now until there’s actually a Mills Act program that people can actually sign up for and join, but it seems to be making its way through,” said Schwartz. “And at each level, at both City Council and Planning Commission, it seems to have garnered very favorable and unanimous approval.”

Voss said he believes the plan is a perfect fit the community.

“The way it’s been conceived, with the checks and balances that are in there, is very appropriate, and it’s a way for us to get started without over-committing or creating something that is outsized, relative to the needs of the community,” he said.

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