Preserving Chico’s history

Council should approve the new historic-preservation ordinance

The right of communities to establish zoning ordinances in order to protect historic properties is well established in law. More than 2,300 American cities and counties have adopted ordinances to protect their historic resources. Next Tuesday, Aug. 3, the City Council will have the opportunity to include Chico among them. It’s about time.

Efforts to establish a historic-preservation program locally date back to at least the 1970s, and the Chico Heritage Association has been calling for one for decades. But it wasn’t until June 2008 that the council finally committed the city to the effort.

In a process that has paralleled development of a historic-preservation/cultural-resources element in the general-plan update, city staffers—primarily Senior Planner Bob Summerville—have written a historic-preservation ordinance (HPO), presented it to the Planning Commission (where it passed 6-1), and are now bringing it to the council for final approval.

It has not been uniformly smooth sailing. Some property owners have objected to the city’s putting any restrictions on their property, saying it is a violation of constitutional rights and an “illegal taking” of private property without due process or just compensation. They call for adoption of an “owner’s consent clause” that would leave it up to them whether to participate in the program.

The council shouldn’t be fooled. Under its public zoning authority, it has every legal right to establish the ordinance. Besides, the HPO proposed for Chico is conservative, respectful of property owners, and ultimately will improve everyone’s property values. Its restrictions are limited, and there are numerous exemptions—including complete freedom to make interior modifications and allowance for minor exterior alterations.

The HPO also includes an array of financial incentives—special code provisions, significant property-tax reductions—designed to make it easier for owners to protect the historical integrity of their properties.

All in all, it’s an excellent ordinance that has been carefully crafted and thoughtfully vetted by city staff and the Planning Commission. We urge the council to approve it.