CITYWIDE — Santa Monica aced its preservation exam.
The city by the sea topped the list of jurisdictions in Los Angeles County that were graded by the Los Angeles Conservancy for their commitment to historic preservation.
Santa Monica was one of five municipalities to get a perfect score on the report card, but there is always room for improvement, preservationists said.
Among the strengths listed by the L.A. Conservancy is the power of the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, which does not need consent from the landowner to designate a building as a landmark.
City Hall also offers a range of incentives that go beyond the ones offered by the state for landowners who choose to preserve historic properties.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy at the L.A. Conservancy, pointed to the preservation of the Annenberg Beach House as a major victory for the bay city. Ongoing issues include the protection of the restaurant Chez Jay, the former Santa Monica post office building and the Civic Auditorium.
“Every city can improve,” Fine said. “Even the cities with the highest grades.”
He would like to see the Landmarks Commission’s powers extended to include the protection of interior spaces. Under Los Angeles’ preservation ordinance, which allows for the protection of interior spaces formerly accessible to the public, saving the interior of the former post office would be much easier. Currently the Santa Monica commission must way to see what the owner of the post office will do with the space before moving forward. It has been purchased by a film production company.
Santa Monica could also use more multi-building historic districts, Fine said. These areas allow for preservation with a more unified scope.
The last multi-building preservation in Santa Monica was of four Craftsman style homes on Bay Street back in 2000, said Santa Monica Conservancy director Carol Lemlein.
Lemlein said that residents are sometimes fearful of the impacts from landmarking their neighborhood.
Fine suggests that Santa Monica should look to Pasadena’s multi-building preservation approach, which balances the needs of residents who want to make changes to their homes with the need to save iconic architecture.
The top of Lemlein’s list of potential improvements includes more public outreach about the benefits of preservation opportunities like the Mills Act, a statewide program, and smaller local programs, that provide financial incentives to landowners for saving buildings.
Lemlein also lauded the Landmarks Commission, calling it “top notch.”
“I say that recognizing that not everyone is going to agree with every decision that they make.”
Overall, she was happy with Santa Monica’s standing in the L.A. Conservancy’s first report card since 2008.
“It’s always a pleasure to be singled out for excellence in the area that you have the most interest in,” she said.
Santa Monica racked up 245 points from categories like “dedicated preservation staff” and “active landmark designation (at least annually)”.
Fine noted that the report card is not meant to cover all of the specific issues that exist in every city.
“The report card is a snapshot,” he said. “The idea is to use it as a tool so that we will continue to track progress as change is happening.”