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Preservation Battle: Showdown at City Hall Tomorrow

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[Photo of Bunker Hill/University of Southern California archives]

There's trouble brewing at City Hall as preservationists, business leaders, and property owners lock horns over proposed revisions to the city's 1962 Preservation Ordinance. The major issue is the ability of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission to bar demolition of designated historic-cultural monuments. Currently, the commission can only delay demolition, but cannot prevent it. According to the Downtown News, some groups "believe the new ordinance would be too restrictive" because it "has the potential to create headaches for landowners who already contend with the complications and expenses of maintaining a historic property..." Those in support of the updated ordinance include the LA Conservancy. Curbed spoke with Michael Buhler, the Director of Advocacy at the LA Conservancy, who argued that the Conservancy been working with members of the preservation community, as well as development and business communities, including the Central City Association (the Conservancy's main opponent in this showdown) to revamp the ordinance over the past 16 months. He claims they are "frankly surprised to see CCA and others lead the charge against the ordinance" since they were included as part of the working group assigned to create a balanced ordinance. According to another Downtown News story posted yesterday, the Central City Association is now working on its own alternative update to the Cultural Heritage Ordinance.

Meanwhile, Buhler says opponents to the proposed ordinance are not only "opposing revisions but seeking to eliminate long-standing protections in place since 1962."

Additionally, Buhler claims the opposition is using "scare tactics and misinformation" to build support, including telling property owners they won't be able to paint interiors without the city's permission, a charge that is "patently untrue." The LA Conservancy has submitted a letter to the Planning Commission outlining its participation in the process, the concessions that have already been made, and the substantive changes that have been made to the proposal. Download the letter here.

In addition to granting the city the power to deny demolition, the most significant changes include:
· Protecting potential landmarks from demolition while their nominations are pending.
· Enforcing and penalizing violations such as illegal demolition and alteration.
· Clarifying designation criteria for Historic-Cultural Monuments.

Meanwhile, in regards to their group's proposed updated ordinance, CCA President Carol Schatz tells the Downtown News: “It still has not been vetted with our members or property owners, so it’s not ready for show time yet. We believe there’s still a possibility of coming to some agreement with the city on some of the more troublesome provisions."

Meanwhile, here's the position taken by the Planning Department's Office of Historic Resources, according to the Los Angeles Times. "The changes are designed to align Los Angeles' preservation rules with those of other cities, such as Pasadena, San Diego and San Francisco. [Ken Bernstein] said he expected property owners to speak out against the changes on Thursday, but he contended that the revisions were long overdue."

· Major revisions proposed for Los Angeles' preservation ordinance [LA Times]
· Showdown Over Historic Buildings Goes to Vote [Downtown News]