News & Advocacy

Update on Efforts to Restore the Landmarks Commission

June 3, 2020

Two weeks ago, we reached out for your support in helping to save the Landmarks Commission. The impact of the global health crisis on our City and its historic preservation program has resulted in a restructured budget. It prioritizes essential City services as defined in the City Charter but includes suspension of this ever-needed Commission. More than 70 members of our preservation community wrote to City Council.

The Landmarks Commission is a fundamental responsibility of our local government. As defined by the municipal code, it is the heart of our City’s historic preservation program and part of the City’s planning framework. The Santa Monica Conservancy attends all Landmarks Commission’s public hearings and we must underscore that they are crucial for bringing to light historic information which City staff and consultants may not previously know. This community participation is a vital part of our process for identifying and protecting our valuable historic resources.

Additionally, we are very concerned about proposals to drastically increase applicant fees for Landmarks Commission services by as much as 5 to 10 times the existing fees. These increases are based on estimates for “full cost recovery.” This approach fails to recognize that historic preservation is a community benefit and makes designation of a landmark or historic district out of reach for all but the wealthiest property owners. Needless to say, it excludes the Conservancy and other nonprofits as well.

Conservancy Board members have met virtually with Planning Director David Martin and Interim City Manager Lane Dilg. We presented a number of specific strategies to restructure the Landmarks Commission that would reduce staff time, streamline processes, and reduce costs. We also offered our volunteer support in any capacity that could assist City staff. We do not yet know the results of these proposals.

However, be assured that our advocacy and your letters of support have made a difference! At the May 26 City Council meeting, Councilmember Ted Winterer, inquiring about the status of both the Architectural Review Board and the Landmarks Commission, was informed by Interim City Manager Lane Dilg that the ARB continues to meet in order to process project approvals, and that they are working on ways to allow the Landmarks Commission to continue. But we remain vigilant as long as the Commission is in limbo.

Saving historic places helps shape our identity and preserves the stories of our communities in a rapidly changing environment. We are so grateful for your commitment to historic preservation. Thank you!

We will keep you updated as soon as we learn what is proposed for the Council Budget Working Session on June 9. To read our third letter to City Council, click here. Our previous news post about our advocacy to stop the suspension of the Landmarks Commission can be found here.

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