Redondo Beach Teams Up to Save Landmarks and Taxes

By Dennis Sullivan

Reducing property taxes for any property owner in Redondo Beach seems at odds with the normal revenue raising mission of city goverment. But, that is just what the city has done by offering the Mills Act Tax Plan to the city’s landmark property owners. The city’s Planning Department runs the program and recently Teresa Gianos, (past) associate planner, answered some questions for our newsletter (editor note: some details may be out-of-date as this interview occurred several years ago).

Members Update: How many Mills Act contracts are in effect in Redondo Beach?
Teresa Gianos: We have a total of 43 properties with contracts as of December 2002.

MU: What is the city’s interest in promoting and approving these contracts?
TG: The City is highly supportive of Mills Act Contracts as the best incentive within the voluntary historic preservation program. It is a financial benefit in exchange for preserving the property long-term -retaining part of the City’s history and neighborhood character.It is assumed that the money from the tax reduction goes back into the maintenance, repair and preservation of the historic property with original materials (i.e. wood windows) that may cost more than newer replacements.

MU: Is there a limit on the number of homes allowed in the program?
TG: There is no limit on the number of properties. In order to quality, however, the property must be officially listed on the local register of historic landmarks. Such properties must meet significance criteria, have architectural integrity (not substantially altered) and be approved through a public hearing process.

MU: Does the city budget get impacted by these contracts or is it passed on to the county?
TG: The City does lose a portion of property tax revenue, but most of the property tax normally goes to the county, so the loss in the scope of the City budget is very small.  Again, preservation is seen as a benefit in other ways.

MU: Has anyone ever stopped the contract?
TG: To cancel a contract require payment of a penalty or waiting ten years for the term to expire.  Even if a contract is stopped, the historical designation and regulations would still apply.The contract is only the incentive part of the preservation program – the preservation ordinance would still apply without a contract. In fact we have severallandmark properties that do not have contracts.

MU: What is the first step in applying for the Mills Act?
TG: The first step would be to contact City Planning staff with an address to see if the property would qualify as a local landmark.

MU: Can you think of any homes under the Mills Act that have undergone significant remodeling and still have a contract?
TG: We have approved minor additions to historic properties through formal approval by the Preservation Commission. style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Such additions, and all changes to a historic property, have to meet defined standards to retain their historic character. Major remodels and renovation could not be approved.

MU: If an historic home has been altered significantly, and the house is in a landmark district, can it be granted a Mills Act contract based on its location in the district and its proximity to other Mills Act contract homes? In other words, it gains significance solely on its location within a district.
TG: The answer is: it depends. And it may not be an easily described for your newsletter.  It depends on the definition of “significantly altered.” In preservation law this usually means that it has been altered in a negative way (demolition, removal of important features, replacement of all windows with non-historic types).  But there are changes that acceptable under historic standards that may be approved. This may include rehabilitation by adding on, gutting the insides, etc, as long as it meets standards and the Commission agrees that the integrity of the building is intact.

MU: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this program?
TG: First, the process of getting that lowered tax bill can takea long time through the County Assessor, potentially up to 18 months but landmark owners are generally patient because they are in it for the long-term. Nothing’s rushed in a historic home. Also, this is not a substantial benefit to long-term property owners who already have low property taxes under Prop 13; but it can be a good sales promotion for new owners.