Editor:

Yes, the third rail of politics (“Bring back TORCA” Letters to the Editor, Dec. 19).

The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission has explored the possibility of some sort of TORCA-esque program for historic rental buildings. It would serve two purposes. It would preserve some of the historic fabric of the city. At the same time it might protect tenants in older historic buildings facing potential demolition by allowing the purchase of their units.

The San Vicente Boulevard and Ocean Avenue (301 Ocean) property is a great example. The Landmarks Commission landmarked the building, but that was overturned by the City Council by a close vote. Perhaps if such a policy had been in place, those tenants could have had the ability to make purchases under this limited TORCA (Tenant Ownership Rights Charter Amendment) policy. And perhaps the economic incentive to demolish it, prompting the appeal, might have been less. Probably wishful thinking in this case, but the point is clear.

The commission pushed hard to have the list of potentially historic property (the Historic Resources Inventory) expanded and updated. It serves as a basis to identify which historic buildings meet at least a threshold of historic character. It is not all inclusive, however.

As the Land Use and Circulation Element is implemented there will be changes to the various ordinances. The Landmarks Commission has also proposed additional incentives to be included in the revised landmarks ordinance. One major incentive, the Mills Act, enabling property tax reduction on historic buildings, has come under discussion because of issues related to the landmarked Kathryn Grayson mansion, AKA “The House of Rock.” The council continued the decision on that Mils Act contract but asked the Landmarks Commission to look at ways to improve the city’s Mills Act policy. It seems to me that there is opportunity to save more historic buildings and affordable housing by combining all these things.

Integrating this into public policy is the job of the council, not the Landmarks Commission. We can only propose issues related to historic preservation.

But yes, TORCA is the third rail of Santa Monica politics. Our proposal hit the advocates for affordable housing, even those who are otherwise historic preservation advocates both outside and on the council, with a big thud.

 

Roger Genser

Landmarks Commissioner