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Grade is Out: City Gets 'F' for Preservation
Conservancy names Santa Clarita 'preservation truant' for its efforts in protecting historic landmarks.

By Stacey Klein
Signal Staff Writer

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I
s the city doing enough to protect Santa Clarita's historic landmarks?
    Not according to a "preservation report card" released Wednesday.
    The city of Santa Clarita received a letter grade of F for its preservation efforts from the Los Angeles Conservancy, an organization that works to preserve and revitalize architectural and cultural heritage in the greater Los Angeles area.
    Of the 89 local governments in Los Angeles County, about half received passing grades. Those that received top recognition included Long Beach, Pasadena, West Hollywood and Whittier.
    Santa Clarita was among 44 cities that received a failing grade, and were named "preservation truants" because they have no preservation protections in place, according to a statement released by the organization's public relations firm Casey Sayre & Williams, Inc.
    But city officials defended Santa Clarita's track record.
    "Even though we don't have the six or seven things (the Los Angeles Conservancy) based their report on, we think we do a very good job of preservation," said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz.
    The city has made efforts to incorporate its history into the architectural designs of new buildings, she said. For example, plans for the Jan Heidt Newhall Metrolink Station included a bell tower to house a century-old school bell that is on permanent loan to the city from the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
    The school bell — which called Heritage Junction its home until being moved to the Metrolink station — first hung in the original Saugus school house that was abandoned in 1978.
    Santa Clarita has also purchased historical sites — such as the Pioneer Oil Refinery and the Rivendale property west of Interstate 5 — and more than 2,500 acres of open space for the purpose of preservation, Ortiz said.
    Further, she said, the city is in negotiations now to work toward preserving the historic Beale's Cut — one of the first routes used to travel between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys.
    The Conservancy based its grades on whether the city has enacted an ordinance protecting historic landmarks and districts, which the group states is "the most important first step in creating a preservation program."
    Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society President Leon Worden said the report card was "technically" accurate.
    "Having read the report from the Los Angeles Conservancy, I understand where they're coming from," Worden said. "Technically, they are correct in saying the city doesn't have a historic preservation ordinance.
    "But the fact is that the city is actively working with the Historical Society to draft a preservation ordinance that would achieve all the same goals the conservancy has outlined. It's a work in progress," Worden said.
    "Moreover, it's wrong to believe the implication that the city of Santa Clarita isn't interested in historical preservation. The city has stepped up to the plate every time the Historical Society has identified a preservation need in this town."
    Other criteria for the report card included whether the city has a dedicated preservation staff, has a property tax incentive program for historic properties, and has an official historic preservation commission. Also ranked were the number of protected historic landmarks and districts within the community and how much power the local government has to protect these areas, the Conservancy said in a statement.
    Ortiz said the city "was sorry to see that the Conservancy didn't look at other ways" to measure preservation efforts.
    Santa Clarita has a number of city leaders, including City Council members, who are involved with the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, she said.
    Worden said the city identified dozens of its most important historical properties and how to preserve them when it drafted its general plan in 1991.


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