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Our View: Historical preservation needs work

Posted: September 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 30, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The city of Santa Clarita is a proud supporter of property rights, as it should be.

The city is also proud of the Santa Clarita Valley’s proud historical heritage — as it should be.

This valley has a long history of Native American settlements, was the scene of a gold strike before carpenter James W. Marshall discovered gold at Sacramento-area sawmill, has been the location of historical oil wells, saw the second-worst natural disaster in California history and has hosted a historical planned community that set a new standard for suburban growth.

All these all sources of pride.

But a recently proposed city ordinance floated during a community meeting shows those two concepts — valuing private property rights and valuing history — might be in inexorable conflict.

The city’s efforts to please property owners while protecting historical locations has resulted in a watered-down “historic preservation ordinance” that most likely will please neither.

Property owners can opt in to the ordinance, meaning that only the owner can nominate his or her property, and those under the rule of the ordinance can also opt out one year after giving written notice.

Property owners can make alterations to a designated property, subject to a minor-use permit — fee waived; no public hearing is required, and the city provides technical assistance in renovations.

But, because the property owner can opt out, these perks could be subject to misuse.

The city already had an ordinance on the books three years ago, and it made participation mandatory, but it also stipulated that people can’t modify their historic properties without consent from the city.

It’s gone from a mandate to keep our history alive to a voluntary benefits program for those who happen to own any of the roughly 45 structures deemed historic.

We’re not taking a side on the issue of having a historical preservation ordinance, but if the city is going to have one, it needs to be credible. The proposed rules seem like they’re trying to please everybody.

So, what exactly is the ordinance trying to be?

We don’t know anymore. But we’re hoping City Council goes back to the drawing board and returns with something more substantial.

We all want to respect the rights of property owners while preserving the history that makes the Santa Clarita unique to so many of the communities that surround us.

Remaining connected with our roots as we build upon our future is the tie that will bind us in a shared identity that so few communities’ today lack. Our rich history is part of what makes us proud to live here.

No city can please everyone all of the time. But the current proposals to amend the historic preservation ordinance and seemingly satisfy everyone, in the end, might negate the role of historic preservation completely.


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