December 1, 2013
The Mills Act, the state program that reduces property taxes on designated historic properties with approved restoration and maintenance plans, is Santa Monica’s only concrete incentive for historic preservation. The Landmarks Commission has been working to improve Santa Monica’s application and monitoring process by proposing explicit standards that ensure that contracts fulfill the intent and public purpose of the Mills Act. In March, the City Council will be asked to consider those recommendations, and to place limits both on the value of any individual contract and on the total value of contracts approved each year.
The Conservancy Board supports the Landmarks Commission recommendations, but is adamantly opposed to the proposed limits on the number and value of Mills Act contracts. To date, 57 historic buildings have awarded these contracts, at an average cost to the city of $2,300 per contract per year. The City’s total annual cost of this investment in the preservation of its historic properties is less than 0.3 % of property tax receipts!
Given Santa Monica’s high property values, some are concerned that the impact of the Mills Act on the City budget could be much greater in the future. We believe that the data does not support that concern. Fewer than 10% of the City’s properties are potentially eligible for the Mills Act, and only a small percentage of these are likely to seek designation. Furthermore, we do not see evidence of a rush to apply. In the 22-year life of the program, only two years – 2005 and 2006 – had more than 5 contracts approved.
Why, then, is the Conservancy so concerned about a cap on the contracts? We believe it will create a disincentive to designate and apply for a contract because of factors out of the property owner’s control. After investing the significant funds necessary to produce an application, the owner of a modest property could find that the number of submitted applications exceeds the cap and be forced to wait for some time to re-apply. A limit on the value of a contract could also discourage a buyer from the purchase and rehabilitation of a valuable property in poor condition, resulting in another loss to Santa Monica’s historic character.
Please watch your email and the Conservancy website for additional discussion of this issue once the staff report is published!
By Barbara Kaplan
The creation of a new Zoning Ordinance is an immense effort intended to incorporate the land use goals of the LUCE into a document that will govern growth in Santa Monica over the next twenty years. A subcommittee of the Landmarks Commission will work closely with the Commission as a whole, the Planning Commission, planning staff and members of the public to advocate for language in the ordinance that supports historic preservation. Along with the Santa Monica Conservancy, the group will work to include language that recognizes the importance of protecting historic resources in Santa Monica and that provides guidance, flexibility and incentives when any historic resource is a part of a building project.
In other reports, the Landmarks Commission has recently initiated actions on several historic resources. The Junipher Building, at 301 Wilshire Boulevard, was nominated for landmark designation last December 9, and is slated for review March 10. The Post Office building at Fifth and Arizona was nominated for landmark designation on January 13 and will also be considered March 10. The Home Savings Bank building at 2600 Wilshire Boulevard, with artwork by Millard Sheets, was designated a Santa Monica Historic Landmark in December, but has been appealed to the City Council. An appeal to overturn the designation of the Mayfair Theater terrazzo sidewalk paving at 210 Santa Monica Boulevard as Santa Monica’s 106th city landmark has been withdrawn. Lastly, the 100-year-old Bundy House at 401 25th Street was nominated for landmark status at the February Landmarks Commission meeting.
The Landmarks Commission is also pleased to congratulate the Santa Monica Conservancy and their perseverance in completing the entitlement process for the Shotgun House, a Designated Historic Landmark, thus allowing its relocation and restoration process to proceed.