The Future of the Past

 What gives San Clemente that “Spanish Village By the Sea” appeal?   Mostly, it is the  white stucco walls and red tile roofs envisioned by Ole Hanson that defined the city’s first 200+ buildings.  Ever since 1997, when the City identified these as “historic structures”, the City has attracted extraordinary attention and value.  Soon after, the City adopted the Mills Act, a statewide program which offers property tax savings to properties that have entered into Historic Property Preservation Agreements (HPPA’s).   

Each HPPA commits the owner to maintain the historic nature of the structure.  In the 14 years of the program, about 65 property owners have signed agreements.  There are approximately 140 historic structures in San Clemente that are not protected by HPPAs. 

The City is now proposing a major change in the program for those 140 remaining properties.  The new proposal involves more restrictions on what owners can do to their properties.  So, the question is, has the past program protected properties and would more restrictions on owners do a better job of protecting the properties?   

Under the current policy, the HPPA covers  the exterior elements such as wood windows, white stucco walls and red tile roofs that define the image of the City.  Owners are permitted to build additions as long as they are in the “Ole” design.  They can change interior features of their homes and commercial properties to suit their needs.  With this policy about five properties have signed HPPA’s each year. 

The city is now considering a more restrictive policy for future HPPA’s.  Specifically, the proposed policy would:

·       prohibit “any device, decoration, structure or vegetation that is deemed incompatible with the property’s historic character”   

·       require City approval before repainting a historic building or changing the landscaping 

·       require that “Interior remodeling shall retain original features” 

·       require that any property tax savings received must be spent on maintenance and improvements”

·       require seismic strengthening of the foundation and upgrades to the plumbing, heating and electrical systems to current building codes 

 One of the reasons the City is considering this is that the owner of a certain historic property recently removed the landscaping in the front yard.  This caused a number of citizens to become upset, although it was later determined that the landscaping was not original.

  The City proposed the new policy to the Planning Commission on May 18th.  That Staff report is available on the City’s website.   

In an effort to get the City to be more clear and specific with their proposed restrictions, the Planning Commission asked the City staff to hold a public meeting and to conduct a survey to assess how the citizens feel about the proposed changes.  That meeting will be held Thursday June 23rd at 6 pm at the Ole Hanson Room in the Community Center on Avenida Del Mar.

The current program seems to be working reasonably well.  Yet 140+ properties are not yet covered by HPPA’s.  Will tighter restrictions on property owners discourage future HPPA applicants?  Clearly, if the costs of the HPPA outweigh the tax benefits, the program will become unpopular, preservation will be reduced and the value of the historic properties and the Spanish Village will decrease.

You can make a difference.  If you care about the Spanish Village by the Sea or if you own or might someday own a historic property, come to this meeting.  We all want the City to be successful in preserving the character of the town.