In addition to specific grades, our in-depth research unearthed some interesting trends in local preservation throughout L.A. County.
One size does not fit all.
Communities pursue preservation in different ways. While good preservation programs require certain basic elements, they can be used and combined in various forms to suit the specific needs of the community.
Through the new scoring system, the Conservancy has more clearly articulated what we consider the most important benchmarks for communities. Yet we also want to recognize communities that may not have reached these specific benchmarks but are making progress in other ways.
These communities are taking somewhat of a “hybrid” approach to preservation, combining some if not all the key elements of a strong preservation program. For example, La Cañada Flintridge doesn't have a preservation ordinance but offers the Mills Act incentive program, which offers local design review and limited protection. Another example is Carson, which has no historic preservation policies yet provided Community Development Block Grant funds to repaint the highly intact 1956 Carson Car Wash.
An ordinance alone is not enough.
Even an iron-clad ordinance is not as effective as a cohesive approach to preservation using a range of tools.
In California, one of the strongest tools for preservation is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Communities need to understand their responsibilities in using CEQA to protect threatened resources, yet that doesn't always happen.
Two recent examples include a 1930 Mediterranean Revival building at 3901 San Fernando Road in Glendale and the 1959 Mid-Century Modern St. Martha’s Episcopal Church in West Covina. Though the Conservancy submitted comments and/or testified that both structures were architecturally significant, they were approved for demolition as part of certified development projects for their respective sites.
In each case, the cities relied on and accepted flawed cultural resource evaluations that were part of the environmental review for the development projects. Neither structure was identified as a historic resource in its respective environmental review. Yet the Glendale building had been previously surveyed and identified as eligible for listing in both the California and National Registers, and the historical record for the West Covina church included substantial and compelling evidence of its significance.
Some postwar communities think they have no historic resources.
We spoke with a number of local representatives who simply maintain that their community has no historic resources because it is relatively young. Yet each jurisdiction should view its built heritage through the lens of its own historical development, not in comparison to older communities.
All jurisdictions within Los Angeles County have places that are at least fifty years old, which is the typical threshold for assessing historical significance. Postwar development is a critical part of the county’s rich heritage.
We encourage younger communities to conduct historic resources surveys to identify potential historic and cultural resources before they are lost.
The recession greatly hindered progress in preservation.
Historic preservation programs were far from immune to the recession of the late 2000s.
Local budget reductions led to changes such as reducing the number of planning staff, eliminating the position of a dedicated preservation planner, eliminating a dedicated Historic Preservation Commission and transferring its duties to the existing Planning Commission, and indefinitely postponing specific preservation efforts such as creating historic districts.
Despite the recent upturn in the economy, many of these negative impacts remain today, significantly hindering communities’ preservation efforts.
We have a long way to go.
While the Conservancy saw some improvement between 2003 and 2008, in the past five years, progress in preservation programs has slowed throughout the county, largely for reasons noted above. The Conservancy recognizes the need for proactive work in communities, and we will be reaching out with more resources, tools, and technical assistance. This new Digital Report Card will help, but we will also pursue other proactive outreach. Learn more about how communities can improve their grades.
Comparing previous grades is not “apples to apples.”
The new scoring system has changed the distribution of grades among communities. While the number of “A” grades has more than doubled since 2008, the number of “F” grades has also increased.
We discourage making direct comparisons of the 2014 scores to those from 2003 and 2008, which would be misleading. We have designed a scoring system to be more helpful by clarifying the elements and priorities of a strong preservation program.
Rather than making an inaccurate comparison to previous grades, we encourage communities to focus on the specific elements of their grades for 2014 and how they can improve, using specific resources and assistance.