Here is a sample of the language in the proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance: “ failure to obey an order issued by those authorized to enforce it, or failure to comply with a condition of approval of any discretionary city approval shall constitute a misdemeanor” (page 17).
There are no objective standards. Everything is to be negotiated with community development department staff — including what needs to be done, the time allowed for doing it and the amount of the fines (up to $10,000 per violation and up to $5,000 per day). The Community Development Department’s power is backed by the resources of the city. Most homeowners cannot afford the thousands of dollars it can cost to stand up to that. In addition, a “misdemeanor” is a criminal charge.
Even with all the other problems in this proposed historical ordinance, that wording gets to the heart of what’s wrong. In trying to justify this new law, staff has talked about “intentions,” but in the end, it’s not “intentions” that will matter. What is in writing will be the law.
My husband and I have worked hard to preserve some of San Luis Obispo’s history, utilizing whatever money we could from paycheck to paycheck — all the while raising four children. We voluntarily placed the historic Myron Angel House, our home, on the National Register of Historic Places. This voluntary action enabled the city to create its first historic district. We are not under the Mills Act and have not received any tax benefits for our work. We have enjoyed seeing families move back into the neighborhood, restore historic homes and bring new energy back to this area.
This proposed law is less about meeting the needs of residents in historical neighborhoods and more about how the city can acquire more power.
Peg Pinard is a former mayor and council member of San Luis Obispo, a former county supervisor and co-founder of the Old Town Neighborhood Association.