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Pasadena, Calif. – A project to update a California city’s historic preservation ordinance, managed and supported by SWCA’s Pasadena staff, has been recognized as among the best of its type with the Los Angeles Conservancy’s prestigious 2018 Preservation Award.

The city of San Gabriel’s Historic Preservation and Cultural Resource Ordinance Update was selected by the Conservancy in February, after a review process where the update was evaluated in competition with multiple other possibilities, including large and small preservation and adaptive reuse projects by private developers and public agencies.

“The updated ordinance allows one of L.A. County’s oldest cities to face new challenges, balancing the needs of development with preservation, managing change to historic properties, maintaining the character of historic neighborhoods, and preserving centuries of significant sites,” said Linda Dishman, Conservancy president and CEO. “It takes the city’s preservation program to the next level and serves as a model for other cities.”

San Gabriel, site of Mission San Gabriel, which dates to 1771 and was the first European settlement in what is now Los Angeles County, was the second city in the county (following the city of Los Angeles) to adopt a historic preservation ordinance. During the half-century after its initial passage in 1965, San Gabriel designated and protected local landmarks and completed resource surveys for different neighborhoods in the city, ranging from the Mission District to commercial and residential areas. While the original ordinance was groundbreaking, it became outdated in comparison to current preservation practice and law. Beginning in 2015, the city undertook a two-and-a-half-year effort to update the ordinance for the 21st Century, using a team of San Gabriel city staff and outside experts, including from SWCA’s Pasadena office.

The consolidated team was led by SWCA’s John Dietler, PhD., who served as lead archaeologist and project manager for the update. The team held community meetings and sessions encouraging residents to pose questions about the ordinance, offer feedback, and discuss issues. The updated law uses clear, concise language and is free of jargon, making it user-friendly for residents. The most significant update created a Historic Preservation Commission to serve as a dedicated body of historic preservation experts—which San Gabriel has never had. It also creates a historic context statement and a citywide survey of historic resources, and gives San Gabriel the ability to protect and maintain the cohesive, historic feel of residential neighborhoods through the designation of historic districts and the establishment of Conservation Overlay Zones.

The updated ordinance will allow San Gabriel to take its historic preservation program to the next level. The ordinance was written with the goal of enabling San Gabriel to achieve Certified Local Government (CLG) status. The CLG program forms a partnership among participating local governments, the California State Office of Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service. Jurisdictions designated as CLGs are eligible for state and federal grants to support efforts such as preservation plans, historic resources surveys, and preservation education and outreach programs. A jurisdiction’s status as a CLG indicates both a high degree of protection for historic resources and a strong commitment by local government to continue improving its preservation programs. SWCA is currently working with other California cities, including Monterey, founded in 1770 and the capital of Spanish California, to write similarly updated ordinances for their communities.

The Los Angeles Conservancy was formed in 1978 to prevent a proposed demolition of the city’s Central Library, built in 1926 and on the National Register of Historic Places. It now has 6,000 members, the largest of any local preservation organization in the United States.  Although the award was announced this month, it will be formally presented at an awards event May 2 in Los Angeles.

San Gabriel California Historic Project photos courtesy of SWCA and city of San Gabriel