Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Temporary Obstacle

The new preservation ordinance contains a provision that "allows" property owners in a designated historic district to rescind that designation. The Chronicle's print article last week explained the process:
If 51 percent of property owners oppose the designation, the planning director must either recommend to City Council reducing the size of the district or eliminating it. Council is not bound to follow the recommendation.
I previously noted that the principle underlying the preservation ordinance cedes complete control of property use in historic districts to city council. This provision confirms that fact.

The ordinance goes further than ignoring the desires and judgment of individual property owners. According to the Chronicle, even if every property owner in a district wants to rescind the historic designation, council has no obligation to honor that desire. In short, council can do as it damn well pleases. Council can substitute its judgment for that of the property owners and impose that judgment by coercion.

This is the logical and inevitable result of the principle accepted by council when it passed the first preservation ordinance. At that time council declared that it had the authority to control some uses of some properties. But "some" was only a temporary limitation made necessary by pragmatic political considerations.

Even the current ordinance is a compromise, as acknowledged by Ma Parker. But such compromises are a complete victory for the preservationists. The principle animating preservationists--that the community has the right to regulate private property--is a matter of law. The details, which the preservationists are not entirely happy with, are only another temporary obstacle to their goals. But those obstacles are minor with preservation advocate Ma Parker running the show. After the ordinance was passed, she said:
It is possible under this ordinance to have historic districts have a reconsideration and break off and some parts of those historic districts go away. I'm going to do my best to make sure that doesn't happen.
Considering that she has a gun at her disposal, while those wishing to leave the historic district can do little more than beg for her cooperation, the prognosis isn't good for property owners in historic districts.

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