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TimBen Boydston: City historical preservation is second to property rights

SCV Voices

Posted: June 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2011 1:30 a.m.

“No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent.” — John Jay, Founding Father

Our City Council will soon be considering a historic preservation ordinance. Since this ordinance could apply to any private property in the city of Santa Clarita, developed or undeveloped, you should be concerned.

If you are thinking that your property could not possibly be considered historic, perhaps you should read the draft ordinance presented to the planning commission.

It states that only one of the following criteria needs to be met for your building, structure or object to be nominated to be designated a historic landmark: “Is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, aesthetic, engineering or architectural development of the city, state or nation;” or “Has a unique location, singular physical characteristic(s) or is a landscape, view or vista representing an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the city.”

That’s right, you read that correctly. Your property could be considered historic if your landscape is familiar to your neighborhood.

How would your property be put on the historic property list under the new ordinance? The community-development director, the Planning Commission or the City Council could nominate it, the commission would advise and the City Council would make the final decision.

Under the ordinance as written, you would not have any say about your own property. The City Council would be the determining body restricting the demolition or alteration of your private property. This type of overreaching is not only oppressive, it makes a mockery of protecting our individual property rights. We formed a city so that the citizens would have a local government that protected our rights.

Once you are put on the list, what does it mean? It means it will be against the law for you to “directly or indirectly alter, remodel, demolish, grade, remove, construct, reconstruct or restore any historic resource ... without first obtaining a certificate of appropriateness with approval from the Planning Commission.”

It also means that you will be breaking the law if you do not maintain your property to a level determined by the city, and that you will be expected to use “existing design and materials.”

Finding and purchasing historically accurate “existing materials” to repair or restore your building can be incredibly expensive, and in some cases, must be manufactured by hand.

In addition, you may be required by the city to restore your property “as it appeared at a particular period of time by means of the removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period.”

Once again, the costs for being on this list can be astronomical. If you have any doubts about just how bad it can be to be on such a list, Google “historic preservation horror stories.” Read a little while, then call your City Council members and tell them that this ordinance needs serious amendments.

So how can we protect our rights and still have historical preservation, which is a very worthwhile endeavor? Simple, make the addition to the historical preservation list voluntary. If a property owner wishes to be on the list then they can say, “Yes, I will be on the list.”

If the owner says no, and the community thinks that his or her property has so much historical value, that it should be preserved, then the community (city) should buy the property from the owner, or sit down with the owner and see what would be needed to convince the owner to put it on the list.

The planning commission has recommended this change along with several other good changes. With your support, it’s hoped that our City Council will amend this ordinance to protect the citizens of Santa Clarita. 

“A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings.” — Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father

TimBen Boydston is a former Santa Clarita City Council member.His expressed opinions are as a private citizen, and not in any official capacity.



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