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City Officials Move to Gut Historic Preservation
April 1, 2003

Largely due to the work of numerous volunteers over the last two decades, Richmond has built an enviable historic preservation program that has brought regional, and even national, recognition to the City, as well as millions of dollars in grants for treasures such as East Brother Light Station, the Plunge, the Red Oak Victory, the Ford Assembly Building and the Rosie the Riveter W II Home Front National Historical Park.

Now, the administration, including such top official as the city manager, assistant city manager for community and economic development and the planning manager want to de-fund and dismantle what little support has been previously provided by City government. The watershed moment may come this Thursday, April 3, 2003, at 3:00 PM when the City Council Finance Committee meets to consider a modest funding request.

Despite consistent support from the City Council over the past several years, staff is pursuing, almost with an obsession, an effort to disparage historic preservation as an important public policy and economic development tool. Just yesterday, Isiah Turner wrote to the City Council: "Things have changed in our organizational cultural, our resources are less, our priorities (from your direction) are very demanding and they have been piled on top of other priorities--and that’s the case with this issue.  So does this direction (i.e., historic preservation) have to be repositioned on your list of priorities and not just Councilmember Butt’s list?" 

I urge you to read the letter that follows, which I wrote to my colleagues on the Finance Committee, and to urge them to approve at least Option 2 and hopefully Option 3. Should you wish to contact them, the members are:

Charles Belcher (510) 215-8039, (510) 235-6215, c.h.belcher@worldnet.att.net

Gary Bell (510) 893-6742, (510) 758-8367, gb926@aol.com

Maria Viramontes, (510) 236-5977

Nat Bates, 510/222-1101, Nat_Bates@ci.richmond.ca.us


Other officials you may want to contact are:

Isiah Turner, 510/620-6512, isiah_turner@ci.richmond.ca.us

Jay Corey, 510/620-6512, jay_corey@ci.richmond.ca.us

Barry Cromartie, 510/529-6706, barry_cromartie@ci.richmond.ca.us


March 30, 2003

Richmond City Council Finance Committee

Councilmembers Bates, Belcher, Bell and Viramontes

City of Richmond

City Hall

2600 Barrett Avenue

Richmond, CA 94804

Subject: Historic Preservation Programs

Dear Colleagues:

When you meet on April 3, 2003, you will be considering an agenda item entitled “Consider entering into a contract to retain a consultant for Historic Preservation Architectural Services.” Since I cannot participate, I would like to provide this written information for your consideration.

Barry Cromartie has provided you with three options. I urge you to reject Option 1 (Deny entering into a sole source contract to retain a consultant to perform historic preservation architectural services during Fiscal Year 02-03 to accomplish proposed work items listed in Exhibit A (attached),” and I urge you to embrace options 2 and 3.

Option 2 would extend bare bones support of historic preservation programs and processes through the end of this fiscal year, which is only three months away. The marginal cost is almost nothing and would be entirely recovered by an almost undetectable increase in planning fees of four tenths of one percent.

Option 3 would extend this support into fiscal year 2003-2004 and would also be fully recovered with a planning fee increase of a modest 4.2 per cent.

I want to share with you some information about why this is not only important to the City of Richmond but also why these historic preservation capabilities should be fully embedded in the routine services provided by the Planning Division.

Richmond is rich in historic resources. This unique wealth can play a key role in changing the image of our city and improving the quality of life of our citizens. There are over 600 individual structures and sites in Richmond listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources. Of these, approximately 80 per cent are residences comprising approximately 2,000 dwelling units housing over 4,000 Richmond residents. The remainder consists of commercial buildings, government buildings and Native American or other archaeological sites. Additional sites are listed on Richmond’s Historic Register. These designated properties already cut across Richmond geographically, ethnically and demographically, and the opportunity exists to insure that Richmond’s list of historic resources fully reflects its diversity.

All of these resources are afforded certain protections under state law (CEQA), federal law (NEPA and NHPA) and local law (RMC 6.06). Not only are the listed resources protected, but under state and federal law, any other resources that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources are also protected. The ability of Planning staff to understand and deal effectively and efficiently with the application of state and federal law will benefit Richmond residents and developers alike.

Perhaps more important than any restrictions are the benefits that can be realized by owners of historically designated properties. Included are federal tax credits, tax deductions, grants, planning assistance and building code flexibility. Historic preservation should be an important and integral part of the City’s economic development strategy, providing incentives for rehabilitation and repairing blight.

Millions of dollars of federal historic preservation tax credit subsidies have already been effectively used in such high profile projects as the Hotel Mac rehabilitation, the Hotel Carquinez (formerly Hotel Don) rehabilitation, and Baltic Square. The Ford Assembly Building will utilize approximately $5 million of historic preservation federal tax credits. The economic feasibility of rehabilitation of the historic buildings at Point Molate will be substantially enhanced by historic preservation federal tax credits and possibly grants.

The City is currently seeking grants for the Plunge rehabilitation that are available only to listed historic properties, and the rehabilitation of East Brother Light Station was largely funded with federal and state grants. Finally, Richmond’s Main Street program has an important historic preservation component as does the Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park.

I know that some of you have general philosophical doubts about the value of historic preservation, and I respect that. I know that some have questioned the appropriateness of considering certain individual sites for inclusion in the Richmond Register. I ask you to remember, however, that no one person or the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee can designate a property for inclusion on the Richmond Historical Register. Only the City Council can do that. Councilmember Bates’ motion to defer listing of the Galileo Club pending consent of its owners was an appropriate exercise of the City Council’s prerogative in these matters, and I supported it.

As for properties that are already on or eligible for the National Register or the California Register, the City’s obligations when processing development proposals is defined by state and federal law. We cannot change that or dodge our responsibilities, but we can be savvy enough to do it right, do it efficiently and do it in a way that makes a good impression on developers and the community alike. And in order to do that, we need appropriate resources in, or available to, our Planning Division.

Frankly, I cannot make a better case for a sound and comprehensive historic preservation policy and program than the “Purpose” statement in our own Historic Preservation Ordinance (RMC 6.06):

The purpose of this chapter is to promote the general welfare by providing for the identification, protection, enhancement, perpetuation, and use of improvements, buildings, structures, signs, features, sites, places, and areas within the City that reflect special elements of the City's historical, architectural, archaeological, cultural, or aesthetic heritage for the following reasons:

(1) To encourage public knowledge, understanding, appreciation, and use of the City's past;

(2) To foster civic pride in the beauty and personality of the City and in the accomplishments of its past;

(3) To enhance the visual character of the City by encouraging new design and construction that complement the City's historical buildings;

(4) To increase the economic benefits of historic preservation to the City and its inhabitants;

(5) To protect property values within the City;

(6) To identify as early as possible and resolve conflicts between the preservation of historical resources and alternative land uses;

(7) To conserve valuable material and energy resources by ongoing use and maintenance of the existing built environment;

(8) Provide a procedure for detailed application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as it pertains to historic cultural resources as defined in Section 21084.1 of the California Environmental Quality Act;

(9) Achieve designation as a Certified Local Government under 36 CFR Part 61 and satisfactorily perform responsibilities delegated by the State of California;

(10) Provide for detailed application of Federal legislation affecting historic properties, including Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 USC Section 470f, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act (Section 4(f): 49 USC Section 303 and 23 USC Section 138, Highways; and 49 USC Section 2208(b)(5), Airports) and the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act (40 USC Sections 490.601a, 606, 611 and 612a);

(11) Maintain a system for the survey and inventory of historic properties;

(12) Provide for adequate public participation in the application of public policy in historic preservation, including the process of recommending properties for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register, or the Richmond Historic Register;

(13) Provide owners of historic properties reasonable economic uses;

(14) Provide a constitutional right of owners for due process for restrictions or proposed restrictions on the use of historic properties.

Since 1999, the City Council has adopted a number of resolutions supporting approximately a dozen different historic preservation initiatives and programs as well as adopted RMC 6.06, Richmond’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. All of these have been unanimous votes, or at most, with one dissent. This constitutes a broad consensus of the value of these programs and establishes historic preservation as an integral part of Richmond’s public policy.

In the staff report before you on April 3, the justification for considering the option of de-funding historic preservation seems to be that the City Council approved some goals and objectives for the remainder of this fiscal year and the next fiscal year. The planning manager apparently believes that supporting previously approved preservation-related activities will “compete with other higher priority items and may diminish staff’s ability to successfully complete these work programs as scheduled.”

It is my perception that when the planning manager came to the City Council with goals and objectives, it was in the context of initiating new activities and streamlining existing activities. The list (attached to the March 28, 2003 memo from Barry Cromartie) did not include ongoing activities, such as processing various applications for discretionary review, staffing Planning Commission and Design Review Board meetings, and answering questions from the public at the counter. One would presume that these ongoing activities, including historic preservation-related activities, would continue, albeit perhaps more efficiently than previously.

That having been said, a knowledgeable person could even construe that the preservation-related activities fall within a number of the goals and objectives listed. For example:

“Retain consultant and manage Trail Feasibility Study at Shipyard 3 Area” will have to recognize the historic resources in Shipyard 3 in order to conform to CEQA.

“Review existing City environmental procedures and requirements for improvements in program administration and requirements” should include the cultural resources and historic preservation provisions of CEQA and RMC 6.06 and provide improvements to the miserable way the City has dealt with these in the past.

“Increase intergovernmental coordination with area agencies and organizations” should include historic preservation issues relating to the National Park Service and the State Office of Historic Preservation.

“Actively participate in planning and related studies for the reuse of Pt. Molate and surrounding area” will have to include a thorough understanding of the opportunities and restrictions related to the Winehaven Historic District and the Native American sites that he Navy either has or will be nominating to the National Register of Historic Places.

“Continue to assist with the development of the City GIS System to improve data collection, analysis and retrieval, thereby assisting with the administration of City regulatory programs” should include an overlay indicating all the historic resources that are subject to NEPA, CEQA, NHPA and/or RMC 6.06.

“Continue development of tools and processes to streamline permit administration and decisions” should include procedures to inform applicants about historic preservation incentives and restrictions.

“Continue assistance to City redevelopment programs, and reconcile economic development, objectives with City land use and environmental requirements and procedures” should include the dissemination of information about historic preservation economic incentives. For example, the Historic Preservation tax Credit on the Ford Assembly Building will be worth about $5 million to the developer.

The point of the foregoing is to emphasize that the City’s historic preservation programs are not separate and distinct from the Planning Division Objectives but are, in fact, a critical part of virtually all of them, as they are of other City programs directed by the Redevelopment Agency.

I really do not care whether the City retains Ms. Stoltz or someone else as a consultant - or if the Planning Department recruits suitable in-house staff - to deal with historic preservation issues. I just believe we need to deal with this issue, and we need to find at least a short-term solution that will tide us over until a long-term staffing solution is reached. I might note that last time the City did an RFP that resulted in Ms Stoltz retention, it took over a year.

What we need to address, at a minimum, are answers to the following:


How does the Planning Department plan to staff project applications with historic preservation implications? There is no person currently a staff member with sufficient expertise to provide this resource or to advise on any of the other concerns that follow.

How does the Planning Department intend to staff the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, and when will this function start up again?

What does the City intend to do with respect to its Certified Local Government application?

Who is providing overall coordinated and consistent staff advice for City projects involving known or potential historic resources, such as Point Molate, Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, the wigwags, the Main Street program, the Plunge, Terminal 1, Hope VI, etc?

How does the City intend to address historic resources in its General Plan revisions, particularly the ongoing Housing Element?

These are not new policies waiting to be made or debated. All these concerns relate to ordinances or resolutions already passed by the City Council, California State Law (CEQA) and/or NEPA and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Please make the modest adjustments to the Planning Division budget and cost recovery formula to implement Options 2 and 3.


Thomas K. Butt