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City Council tables its historic preservation vote

Posted: September 25, 2012 10:29 p.m.
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:29 p.m.

Santa Clarita’s proposed historic preservation ordinance remained a present concern for many at Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council.

The council held an open session during its meeting on Tuesday to discuss the ordinance, which, if passed, would allow home and property owners to opt-out of historic designation for their property.

“We’d hate to have an old town in Santa Clarita that has absolutely nothing old in it,” said Councilwoman Laurene Weste.

The city began collecting feedback on the current proposal last October, but the idea of a historic preservation ordinance has been discussed since 2008.

Proponents of historic conservation have expressed displeasure with the law, saying it makes it too easy for homeowners to alter properties of historic significance.

Weste emphasized this point saying, “I can’t support something that doesn’t save anything.”

Mayor Frank Ferry agreed and said the city should identify necessary sites to be targeted for purchase by the city, in order to both fairly compensate owners for their property and keep historic sites in the public interest.

“Either we have to up the incentive or we are going to lose these historic properties,” he said. “I think that’s the reality.”

Weste said she could identify several structures on the list as “key structures” that should be targeted for preservation. Some of those included the old Newhall Jail, the American Legion Hall and the Santa Clarita Courthouse.

Both opponents and proponents of the ordinance also said that, as stated, the ordinance does not duly incentivize property owners to designate their property as historic.

Edward Marg, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, said the current ordinance offers no reason for owners to opt into it.

“There’s just not going to be much participation because there’s not an incentive from the owner’s side,” Marg said.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar floated the idea of cutting a $5,000 check to owners of historic sites who would consider opting into the ordinance.

“The only thing I would say is that if you opt out, you should give back the $5,000,” he said.

Councilman TimBen Boydston, who recused himself as a councilman from discussion on the ordinance and spoke as a private citizen, called the original ordinance “draconian,” but praised the opt-in clause as a way to avoid “trampling on our citizen’s property rights.”

Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, echoed the point and stressed the importance of vigilance as property rights are “continuously chipped away.”

“Making historic preservation non-threatening is a true win-win for all of us,” he said.

Valerie Thomas, a local citizen, also said that preserving history was important, but not at the expense of property rights.

“If the property is historical and has historical value, it should be preserved,” she said. “If these properties are worth preserving, they (owners) should be fairly compensated.”

Duane Harte, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, said preservation is not just about the present, but future generations as well.

“We have thousands of children who come through Heritage Junction (Historic Park) every year. One of the questions they always ask is, ‘Where are other historical sites we can see?’” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never have to say, ‘There aren’t any.’”

The council adjourned without taking a vote on the measure, but advised staff to return with additional data on the fiscal impact of either relocating or purchasing historic properties.



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