05 July 2005

Susan Cerny on the LPO revisions

July 5, 2005

To: Mayor and City Council

From: Susan Cerny

Former Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, author of Berkeley Landmarks, contributing author Picturing Berkeley, A Postcard History; author of over 200 articles on the history of Berkeley for the Berkeley Gazette, Berkeley Voice, and Berkeley Daily Planet. Currently project manager and editor of The Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Area (Gibbs Smith, Publisher).

Re: Landmark Preservation Ordinance Revisions

Until the present building boom, historic preservation in Berkeley was widely accepted as being beneficial to the city and tolerated by the few developers inconvenienced by its requirements.

During the past decade, as the economy has changed and development increased, developers impatient to cash in on a strong economy are no longer patient or tolerant of anything that stands in their path.

While the goals of the original July 2000 directive to the Landmarks Preservation Commission were simple: “to revise the ordinance in conformance with the Permit Streamlining Act and California Environmental Quality Act,” the resulting proposals go far beyond that simple directive.

There are two points that are particularly disturbing:

  1. Placing CEQA review of designated historic buildings in the Zoning Adjustments Board.

    Under CEQA, in a jurisdiction where there is an official State Certified Landmarks Preservation Commission, the final body responsible for determining any level of detriment or adverse impact to a designated historic structure must be the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Under these particular circumstances, it is quite possible that decisions made by the ZAB in determining impacts on historic structures under CEQA may not even be legal.

  2. The elimination of the category Sructure of Merit

    This category is misunderstood: Structure of Merit allows the recognition of structures that retain much integrity—such as location, structure profile, or association—but are not in pristine condition (e.g., stucco over original wood siding or additions).

    Berkeley citizens like to believe that it happens “only in Berkeley,” but Berkeley’s preservation ordinance is based on the National Preservation Act of 1966. Preservation ordinances are found throughout the country—Berkeley is not unique in this regard.

    The LPO and LPC provide a formal public forum for discussion and decision making. This is their most important function. The built environment is precious to every citizen and should not, must not, be taken lightly. Pressure from developers to change our city’s environment should be critically evaluated; there is simply nothing wrong with that, and actually developers expect the discussion even if they complain. Respect for the average citizen’s right to this public forum is crucial to the health, safety, and welfare of the city.


Susan Cerny

History of Preservation

The history of legislation protecting the natural environment dates back to the creation of Yellowstone Park in 1872 and the National Park Service in 1916; by the 1930s, the Park Service also had responsibility for historic sites and structures, initiating the Historic American Building Survey in 1933 and receiving a wider preservation charge under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. In 1949, the National Trust was created by Congress as a private nonprofit to receive and administer historic sites and otherwise promote preservation.

The Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established the National Register and state surveys, and created the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which reviews federally funded projects for adverse effects on cultural resources.

In 1992, the State of California Governor’s Executive Order W-26-92 brought the Federal Preservation Act to the state level and declared, “all state agencies shall recognize and preserve and maintain the
significant heritage resources of the State.”

The State Historic Resources Inventory, which the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, in partnership with the City of Berkeley, prepared for the State Office of Historic Preservation in 1977–1979, was part of a federal program mandated by the U.S. Department of the Interior as a means of implementing the 1966 Preservation Act. It is a project of national preservation law which requires localities to identify resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Berkeley’s was one of the first state inventories in California and is highly regarded by the State Office.


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