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Panel recommends revising L.A. cultural heritage law [Updated]

September 10, 2009 |  3:45 pm

The Los Angeles Planning Commission voted 7 to 1 today to recommend approval of a revised historic preservation ordinance that — for the first time — would grant the city's Cultural Heritage Commission authority to bar the demolition of designated monuments.

Under the current ordinance, demolition of a landmark can be delayed, but not denied.

Owners also would be notified as soon as a property is nominated for historic-cultural monument status so they can participate in all public hearings. Now, owners are not formally notified of nomination and often feel blindsided.

Another change calls for boosting the number of cultural heritage commissioners to seven from five to allow for broader representation and to make it easier to reach a quorum. Two of the seven would be property owners of historic-cultural monuments and at least three would have professional experience in architecture, preservation or related fields. 

If approved by the City Council, the revised ordinance would mark the first major changes in the cultural heritage law since it was enacted in 1962. 

After months of discussion among preservationists and property owners, the city Planning Department's Office of Historic Resources decided to leave intact a provision on proposed alterations to interiors of historic-cultural monuments. As is now the case, the Cultural Heritage Commission would have the ability to delay but not deny a request for alterations to interior spaces.

Ken Bernstein, director of the Office of Historic Resources, said the commission could approve demolition of a historic-cultural monument if the owner demonstrated economic hardship or if the commission found that the benefits of an alternative use of the property significantly outweighed the public benefits of preservation.

Demolition would be allowed if the benefits of an alternative use significantly outweighed the benefits of preservation.

In addition, the revised ordinance would allow an owner to appeal the denial of a demolition permit to the City Council.

[Updated at 7:35 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Bernstein said the commission could not, under the proposed revisions, prohibit demolition if the owner demonstrated economic hardship.]

—Martha Groves