Passions Ignite Over Historical Preservation and Demolition Moratorium
After a lengthy, and at times passionate, discussion on historical preservation the Council delayed implementing a Historic Preservation Ordinance. The three Councilmembers (Goodrich, Griffiths, and Aschraft) that make up the Community Planning and Design Committee had recommended the following:
- Adoption of the Historic Resource Survey;
- Develop Funding for the Program;
- Hire a consultant to prepare a Historic Preservation Ordinance that would have included establishing historic (HPOZ) districts and allowed a structure to be deemed historic under the Mills Act; and
- Creation of a Historic Preservation Commission.
The Council did adopt the Historic Resource Survey, and directed staff to prepare an RFP to hire a consultant, but rather than directing staff to prepare the ordinance the Council opted to send the matter back to Committee for further exploration.
An exasperated Bonnie Barnard, who lives in the historic Zamperini House and founded Save Historic Old Torrance, noted that she has been working on the issue with the City for the past 13 years. She expressed dismay that Council stopped short of implementing the ordinance:
“I’m frustrated. I don’t know how many more years I can keep coming before Commissions, and Committees, and Councils saying why, why does the City of Torrance not appreciate and preserve this marvelous area designed by world renowned City Planner Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.?”
To that criticism Mayor Furey replied, “I’m tired of the rhetoric. I’m doing something here tonight that we hadn’t done in a dozen years. I don’t want to hear the negativity…what we’re here for is a positive discussion on historical preservation in the City of Torrance.”
Despite the Mayor’s comments, the next speaker Janet Payne, a former Jared Sidney Torrance award winner who once was described as the heart and soul of the Torrance Historical Society, seemed to echo the same criticism as Barnard:
“I really would like to see something happen instead of have meeting after meeting, after meeting, after meeting. People get tired, they get mad, they get afraid, they get disappointed…I’m positive, but I sure would like to see it before I die.”
On the other side of the issue, several residents expressed concern about restrictions an ordinance might pose to their property rights and how that would impact their property values. Former Councilmember Sutherland seemed to summarize those feelings when at the conclusion of his remarks he pointedly asked the Council, “Would any of you seven want me to tell you how to design your home?”
In addition to wanting the Committee to provide further details, several on the Council worried about the lack of funding. Finance Director, Eric Tsao, noted in the staff report that the item currently lacked a funding source. According to staff, a Historical Preservation Program would have initial start-up costs of about $300K plus annual costs of about the same amount. One resident likened paying that much money to preserve the about 800 structures indentified in the Historic Resource Survey to “paying $1,000 a month for cable TV.”
Later in the evening the Council did adopt an urgency ordinance establishing a 45 day moratorium on the alteration and demolition of any structures identified in the Historic Resource survey. This action was prompted by the recent demolition of a historic home next door to long-time historic preservation advocate Gene Higginbotham. Higginbotham took to social media and the local press to voice his displeasure with the demolition of the property and spoke in favor of the moratorium at the meeting.
The moratorium applies only to the original Torrance tract area.