Palo Alto is moving forward to speed up the registration of over 100 historic homes identified in a 2000 report despite fears the city would use conservation as a way to circumvent Senate Bill 9 entirely.
But councilors made it clear Monday night that they would only seek preservation for about 130 already eligible properties after residents raised concerns that Palo Alto would use historic preservation to avoid dividing land allowed under SB 9.
Since SB 9 went into effect this year, affluent communities across California are in the midst of trying to implement the new state law on lotteries aimed at increasing the number of new homes, while officials continue to fight homelessness and the worst insurmountable in the country.
Already communities like Woodside and Portola Valley – and Pasadena in the south – have tried to prevent homeowners from building more housing units on their single-family plots through creative means. Woodside cited a mountain lion habitat for why the city should be exempted from SB 9, and Portola Valley warns that fires could rage in the hillside community if more homes are built.
That’s the answer that many pro-housing activists expected of NIMBY communities like those found on the slopes of the peninsula, but preserving historic homes – an important part of the bill’s language – is how cities like Palo Alto could prevent at least some home from being evolved.
When Palo Alto last week released a report detailing that it could register new historic houses, buildings or even designate entire districts to keep the division at bay, residents – some of whom spoke during Monday’s council meeting – feared the city would go for widely.
But council members tried to quell this fear on Monday and moved forward to register properties that were considered eligible for historic preservation in a study made of landmark homes in the city two decades ago. Of the approximately 160 homes identified at the time, about 130 are still eligible for conservation – others had either been demolished or have been substantially altered.
Councilor Eric Filseth explained that although the council could previously use its “Palo Alto process” to review developments on single-family plots to save historic homes, the insured no longer exists with SB 9. Unless it is on a historical register, a single -family home can be rebuilt under SB9 without city input. Filseth said the ultimate goal of registering new homes is “so that someone does not tear down the HP garage and put something there.”
“Given the previous checks and balances are now gone and there is always a chance that someone will tear down an original Julia Morgan house and we did not know about it, we should go ahead and do it,” he said. Filseth about preserving more homes.
Filseth also addressed critics who say the city uses historical preservation to circumvent the law.
“If we use this to try to overthrow SB 9, we have chosen a rather inefficient way of doing it,” he said. “It is difficult for me to imagine that there is really a need to preserve close to (130) homes. But whether it’s 100 or five, I think we should know. “
Mayor Pat Burt noted that the 130 properties that the municipality could propose for historic preservation are less than 1% of the total number of single-family homes in the city. He said historical preservation was “deliberately” included in the law to preserve historic homes: “It is not a mistake in this law, it is a feature of the law,” he said.
For Councilman Greer Stone, historic preservation will not be the “Trojan horse to bypass SB 9,” as many believe it is, and he condemned the use of the law as a means of preventing the division of lots. He said Pasadena – a city that last week received a heavily worded letter from the justice minister over its use of ‘landmark districts’ to bypass SB9 – “used a very dull tool to liberate large sections of their community, which seems far-fetched” from the letter of the law. ”
“What we’re discussing is really an attempt to use more surgical precision to identify the traits that have a meaning that would be a tragic loss for future generations,” Stone said.
Stone argued that while housing production is important to deal with the area’s affordable crisis, “we need to balance our growth” with local history.
“So many critics tonight have argued for the importance of not bypassing Sacramento, but have directly ignored that these lawmakers decided to exempt historic properties,” Stone said. “I think we can both preserve and honor our history, which the state legislature intended, but also encourage further housing production.”