SM Councilmembers Move to Protect Historic Structures

Finally, the cement has been laid for San Marino’s historic preservation ordinance, with a unanimous vote by the City Council last week introducing the proposal by first reading; it is expected to be formally adopted at the April 11 meeting and to be amended routinely.
The tentative adoption will check off a primary goal of Mayor Steve Talt’s agenda for this year. His “yes” vote last week was preceded by a sigh of relief, likely echoing many of the city’s residents’ thoughts just as accurately as the “joyful yes” given by Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski.
“This is an item that has been kicked around for years and years and years,” Talt said. “It’s about time we did something about it.”
The ordinance comes courtesy of the Planning Commission, which spent several months last year hashing out the procedure to identify historic structures in town, properly list them as such and to make any aesthetic changes to the structure. Jakubowski, as a member of the Planning Commission before she was elected to the City Council in November, helped piece together this ordinance from the beginning.
“I’m excited, but I think we’ve got a little bit of preliminary work to do before we put this to bed,” she said.
The ordinance creates two formal lists for San Marino, one documenting an inventory of potential historic resources and the other identifying official historic landmarks (or homes and buildings that already have been deemed to be historic by the city).
Being listed in the inventory of resources likely will be a first step for homes in San Marino to achieve historic landmark status, as the city plans to conduct a survey to identify these buildings at some point. Criteria for historic landmark status include association with events or developments of cultural, architectural, historical and political importance; association with a person or people related to that importance; and embodiment of distinctive characteristics of an architectural style or period and its architects and builders.
Landmarks also must retain a substantial amount of integrity with respect to what makes them historical. For example, its design or materials ought not to have been greatly altered from the original, if at all.
Council members made four changes to the ordinance before introducing it: They included “builders” among notable architects to account for older homes not designed and constructed by licensed architects; retitled the “Local Official Register” to “San Marino Register of Historic Landmarks”; clarified that a portion of Design Review Committee guidelines referred to the exterior of a structure; and setting a building permit fee discount of 50% to incentivize homeowners to maintain historic landmarks.
The City Council introduced the ordinance with full acknowledgement it was likely to make changes or additions to it as time passed. For example, some have argued for the creation of a separate commission to handle historic landmark designation, as opposed to having the Planning Commission handle it.
“We’re not rushing into anything,” Talt said. “We’re going to pass this ordinance. We’re going to develop practices to go along with this ordinance and also, in the long run, after we get up and see how this is running, determine whether we need a committee to oversee these decisions.”
In other business, the City Council partially granted City Manager Marcella Marlowe her request to restructure the city’s finance department.
The title of the administrative services director position has been changed back to finance director and the generalized accountant position has been split in two — accounting manager/controller and accountant I.
However, the City Council approved hiring and funding only for the manager/controller position for now.
“We’re not unwilling to do that, we’re just unwilling to do that right now, when we don’t have the bigger picture,” Talt told Marlowe, explaining the decision to hold off on the accountant I position. “What I think we’ve done tonight is take care of some of the problems, and we are willing to wait to take care of the other problems after we have a better picture.”
Marlowe explained that the former three-employee structure was problematic from a staffing and accountability point of view. The city was having trouble attracting applicants for the generalized accountant position and had been contracting out those services. The nature of the position also created a situation where checks and balances could not be applied.
The City Council argued, in approving only the manager/controller position, that this employee would have to hire for the lower level accountant I position anyway, so it wasn’t prudent to create it just yet.
The finance director title change does not represent a structural change, but rather an effort to more effectively attract applicants. The city has twice failed to hire a full-time candidate because, Marlowe said, the generalized administrative services director title brought in applicants with similarly generalized qualities instead of those with high-level finance credentials.
Jakubowski cast the sole “no” vote regarding the accounting manager controller position because she felt the city should flesh out a proper organizational chart first. The City Council also appropriated $9,000 to fund this position for the remainder of the fiscal year.

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