Community Development

Historic Preservation Questions

A historic district study is usually initiated by a neighborhood organization, which contacts staff or the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC). Then, a cultural resources survey is done to inventory structures in the area, to determine whether the area meets the City's criteria for designation. An area potentially qualifies if it contains a concentration of intact and original vintage architectural styles, and if property owners are interested in protecting those structures as valuable assets to the neighborhood.

The survey findings are presented to the CHC, which then makes a recommendation based upon the survey and consultation with property owners. A recommendation from the CHC is forwarded to the Planning Commission. If the Planning Commission recommends approval, an ordinance is drafted for City Council approval. Approval of the ordinance by City Council is the final step.

To qualify for historic district status, an area or neighborhood must contain a concentration of vintage architectural styles that have not been extensively remodeled or altered. Buildings may represent a variety of architectural styles built over several decades, and are usually over 50 years old. The concentration of historic buildings should be approximately 2/3. An architectural survey compiles this information, and research on the history of the neighborhood provides a historical context. Buildings are evaluated architecturally and are categorized as "contributing" and "noncontributing." Contributing buildings are architecturally significant to the historic value of the neighborhood and are targeted for preservation; noncontributing buildings are nonhistoric intrusions, which are outside of the historic preservation goals.

See the Historic District Guidelines page for more information.

While there will never be 100% agreement on any planning or land use issue, a strong base of community support is looked for as part of the planning and approval process. Community input is sought via mailed notices from the City and through community meetings. The general rule for considering community input in other historic districts has been that the majority rules.

The regulations fall into two areas: delay in issuing demolition permits, and architectural review of exterior alterations and new construction.

Since the goal is to preserve the historic homes in the district, demolition permits are very difficult to obtain. There are three steps: first, preparation of an environmental impact report; second, presentation of the request to the CHC, which can delay action on the request for six months to a year. Finally, the demolition permit is not granted until there is an approved building permit for the replacement structure. The design of the replacement structure is regulated by the ordinance; the new house must meet the standards of architectural compatibility with the historic homes adjacent to it.

Permits for all exterior changes - remodeling, additions and alterations - require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the CHC. Staff can approve minor requests that have no adverse impact on the district and are consistent with the architectural guidelines. Requests that are inconsistent with the guidelines, or major projects, are scheduled for a meeting of the CHC. Usually property owners are allowed to make changes which are consistent with the zoning code; the CHC controls what that change will look like and what the design and materials will be. There are small fees for a Certificate of Appropriateness review.

The architectural guidelines used by the CHC are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Buildings. The Standards were developed by the Department of Interior National Park Service, and are in use by municipalities all over the country. The philosophy underlying the Standards is to understand and respect the original architectural character of a historic structure, and to change it as little as possible. Repair is always preferable to replacement.

Preservation and restoration of original architectural features, such as windows, is encouraged. If the degree of deterioration warrants replacing the feature, then the replacement should either replicate the original or, if the material is different, replicate its visual qualities.

Additions should be compatible with the original structure, but should not replicate it or imitate its every detail. The Standards state that it should be possible to distinguish a new addition from the original; consequently, that evolution then becomes part of the ongoing history of that structure.

Fences and structural alterations on the site are reviewed by the CHC. Fences should be simple in design and should match the materials and design of the house. Chain link fences would not be approved unless completely invisible from the public right-of-way. Landscape and plantings are typically not reviewed. However, in some districts, street trees are included as a significant neighborhood features, and are identified for preservation.

Exterior painting does not require a city permit, but often is regulated by a historic district ordinance. The guidelines for painting recommend that the colors be based upon a historic color palette for that architectural style, and that the selected colors be neighborhood compatible.

Historic District status encourages neighborhood pride, by confirming that the vintage homes in the district are valuable assets. The regulations help to protect the value of each owner’s investment by ensuring that all development will meet certain architectural quality standards. The preservation and restoration of historic homes tends to attract homeowners who appreciate the qualities of craftsmanship and design in older homes.

Historic restoration is encouraged, which enhances the physical attractiveness of the neighborhood. Real estate studies in various cities across the country have shown that property values in protected historic districts tend to be higher than comparable neighborhoods that have no architectural regulations.

Property owners in historic districts wishing to make changes to their homes have an extra step to complete before a building permit can be issued. They need to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the CHC or from City staff prior to the issuance of the building permit. There are small fees charged for this review. There may be some additional time required, to schedule an item for the CHC.

Building permit applications are "flagged" upon submission, and applicants are requested to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness or an authorized signature. Staff handles most applications after a discussion about materials and design specifications, and the extra time required is usually brief. Since repainting does not require a building permit, compliance requires educating the community about the regulations.

An aggrieved owner can appeal to the Planning Commission. Alternatively, an owner can wait the six months to one year for the authority of the CHC to expire. Or, if an owner has new information, the owner can request reconsideration and present new evidence to the CHC.

Staff will notify the owner and request that a Certificate of Appropriateness application be filed and the architectural guidelines followed. Inappropriate remodeling occurs usually when an owner does not obtain a building permit prior to doing the work, and is not informed that the property is in a historic district. Compliance means returning the property to its appearance prior to the remodel. Enforcement can be by the City or by private parties through a civil action.

The Historic Preservation Officer is a historic preservation professional with extensive experience in the field. Members of the CHC are appointed by the Mayor and represent various fields of expertise, which enable them to assist applicants with construction and design issues. All of them are dedicated to serving the public and helping owners achieve their objectives while maintaining the integrity of the districts’ historic character.

Architectural review is a process that applies to all properties inside the boundaries of the historic district. While non-historic, "non-contributing" buildings currently are not targeted for preservation, adverse alterations could be made that would negatively affect the street and neighborhood. The standards of architectural review for non-historic properties are based on avoiding adverse impacts to the district.

The City has some programs that apply to certain historic districts, operated by the Community Development Department. Another program, a Mills Act Historic Property Contract, provides a property tax abatement program for buildings in historic districts with a high level of architectural significance, such that they would qualify for individual landmark designation. Additionally, there is a heritage fund grant program available from a private nonprofit organization in the city for projects that can demonstrate a public benefit.

The historic district regulations are an architectural review overlay on top of other City regulations, such as zoning and building codes. The underlying zoning, development standards, and owner entitlements are not affected.

All physical conditions, which exist at the time a district is designated, are "grandfathered in." Owners are not required to do anything proactively to conform to the historic district regulations. The design guidelines apply when an owner requests a physical change to their property.

Interior remodeling is excluded from review. Normal maintenance and repair, which does not involve a change in materials or design, is excluded as well.

Yes. A building permit is required for relocating a historical building. Site plan, foundation plan and details shall be provided. Please visit the Plan Review Requirements page for the definition of site plan and foundation plan. The building shall be evaluated by a California licensed engineer and strengthened as necessary per CBC 2007 Title-24 Part 8 section 8-705.