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Historic Preservation
of the Ranchos

Now that the Ranchos have turned 50 there has been much discussion in the neighborhood about pursuing historic preservation. There are many steps in the process for the nomination and designation of a historic district, including an official survey of the neighborhood to inventory structures and document architectural features.

More discussion needs to take place with the City and within the neighborhood to determine if Historic Perservation is desirable. On the one hand it would have the positive impact of protecting vintage Cliff May designs. On the other hand it could limit creativity and use of modern materials that enhance some home restorations. Historic preservation aside, most of us seem to agree on one point: sensitivity to the original Cliff May designs is critical to the value and character of our neighborhood. If you would like to express your opinion on this topic, or if you would like to get more information about Cliff May and related design and architecture, we encourage you to post a message or contribute to the ongoing discussions on the Cliff May Rancho Yahoo Group. Alternatively, you can always contact us via email or phone.

The following information was compiled from the City of Long Beach. It summarizes some of the key questions regarding historic preservation. Guidelines, resources and additional FAQs can also be found through the city of Long Beach website:


What is the process for nominating and designating a historic district?

A historic district study is usually initiated by a neighborhood organization, which contacts staff or the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC). Then, a cultural resources survey is done to inventory structures in the area, to determine whether the area meets the City’s criteria for designation. An area potentially qualifies if it contains a concentration of intact and original vintage architectural styles, and if property owners are interested in protecting those structures as valuable assets to the neighborhood. The survey findings are presented to the CHC, which then makes a recommendation based upon the survey and consultation with property owners. A recommendation from the CHC is forwarded to the Planning Commission. If the Planning Commission recommends approval, an ordinance is drafted for City Council approval. Approval of the ordinance by City Council is the final step.

What is the planning rationale for historic district designation?

To qualify for historic district status, an area or neighborhood must contain a concentration of vintage architectural styles that have not been extensively remodeled or altered. Buildings may represent a variety of architectural styles built over several decades, and are usually over 50 years old. The concentration of historic buildings should be approximately 2/3. An architectural survey compiles this information, and research on the history of the neighborhood provides a historical context. Buildings are evaluated architecturally and are categorized as "contributing" and "noncontributing." Contributing buildings are architecturally significant to the historic value of the neighborhood and are targeted for preservation; noncontributing buildings are nonhistoric intrusions, which are outside of the historic preservation goals.

How are owners’ views taken into account?

While there will never be 100 % agreement on any planning or land use issue, a strong base of community support is looked for as part of the planning and approval process. Community input is sought via mailed notices from the City and through community meetings. The general rule for considering community input in other historic districts has been that the majority rules.

What are the regulations?

The regulations fall into two areas: delay in issuing demolition permits, and architectural review of exterior alterations and new construction.

Since the goal is to preserve the historic homes in the district, demolition permits are very difficult to obtain. There are three steps: first, preparation of an environmental impact report; second, presentation of the request to the CHC, which can delay action on the request for six months to a year. Finally, the demolition permit is not granted until there is an approved building permit for the replacement structure. The design of the replacement structure is regulated by the ordinance; the new house must meet standards of architectural compatibility with the historic homes adjacent to it.

Permits for all exterior changes - remodeling, additions and alterations - require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the CHC. Staff can approve minor requests that have no adverse impact on the district and are consistent with the architectural guidelines. Requests that are inconsistent with the guidelines, or major projects, are scheduled for a meeting of the CHC. Usually property owners are allowed to make changes which are consistent with the zoning code; the CHC controls what that change will look like and what the design and materials will be. There are small fees for Certificate of Appropriateness review.

The architectural guidelines used by the CHC are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Buildings. The Standards were developed by the Department of Interior National Park Service, and are in use by municipalities all over the country. The philosophy underlying the Standards is to understand and respect the original architectural character of a historic structure, and to change it as little as possible. Repair is always preferable to replacement.

Preservation and restoration of original architectural features, such as windows, is encouraged. If the degree of deterioration warrants replacing the feature, then the replacement should either replicate the original or, if the material is different, replicate its visual qualities.

Additions should be compatible with the original structure, but should not replicate it or imitate its every detail. The Standards state that it should be possible to distinguish a new addition from the original; consequently, that evolution then becomes part of the ongoing history of that structure.

Fences and structural alterations on the site are reviewed by the CHC. Fences should be simple in design and should match the materials and design of the house. Chain link fences would not be approved unless completely invisible from the public right-of-way. Landscape and plantings are typically not reviewed. However, in some districts, street trees are included as a significant neighborhood features, and are identified for preservation.

Exterior painting does not require a city permit, but often is regulated by a historic district ordinance. The guidelines for painting recommend that the colors be based upon a historic color palette for that architectural style, and that the selected colors be neighborhood compatible.

What are the benefits of being in a historic district?

Historic District status encourages neighborhood pride, by confirming that the vintage homes in the district are valuable assets. The regulations help to protect the value of each owner’s investment by ensuring that all development will meet certain architectural quality standards. The preservation and restoration of historic homes tends to attract homeowners who appreciate the qualities of craftsmanship and design in older homes. Historic restoration is encouraged, which enhances the physical attractiveness of the neighborhood. Real estate studies in various cities across the country have shown that property values in protected historic districts tend to be higher than comparable neighborhoods that have no architectural regulations.

The State Historical Building Code, an alternative code permitting the retention of historic materials and design, may be used for the rehab of contributing buildings in historic districts. This Code often results in significant cost savings.

What is the downside?

Property owners making changes to their homes have an extra step of City review before a building permit can be issued. They need to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the CHC or from staff prior to the issuance of the building permit. There are small fees charged for this review. There may be some additional time required, to schedule an item for the CHC.

How are the regulations implemented?

Building permit applications are "flagged" at the counter, and applicants are requested to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness or an authorized signature. Staff handles most applications after a discussion about materials and design specifications, and the extra time required is usually brief. Since repainting does not require a building permit, compliance requires educating the community about the regulations.

What if an owner is dissatisfied with the ruling of staff or the CHC?

An aggrieved owner can appeal to the Planning Commission. Alternatively, an owner can wait the six months to one year for the authority of the CHC to expire. Or, if an owner has new information, the owner can request reconsideration and present new evidence to the CHC.