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City readies preservation ordinance

Owners of historic homes could qualify for reduced taxes to maintain their property.

February 08, 2012|By Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com
  • The Spanish Colonial house at 4166 Woodleigh Lane in La Canada Flintridge was built in 1926, shown on Wednesday, January 5, 2011. Owners of historic homes could qualify for reduced taxes to maintain their property under a proposed law. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
The Spanish Colonial house at 4166 Woodleigh Lane in La…

Under consideration for more than a year, the La Cañada City Council approved 3-0 the city’s first historical preservation law Monday night.

Councilman Steve Del Guercio recused himself from the vote, citing a business relationship with resident Brad Schwartz, the owner of a historic Flintridge property who originally proposed the city adopt such an ordinance. Also absent from the vote was Councilman Michael Davitt, who did not attend the council meeting. The ordinance will become law if approved following a second reading, scheduled for Feb. 21.

The Mills Act-based ordinance, which is expected to go into effect at the end of March, allows owners of a historic property to apply for a property tax reduction, contingent on their agreement to restore and preserve the property. But, according to Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, homeowners might not get the reduction they’re expecting.

Noguez, on hand in City Hall Monday to answer questions about the law’s implementation, told the council the Assessor’s Office uses a complex formula to determine any potential property tax break under the Mills Act.

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“It is a very complicated calculation, and there is no such thing as a guaranteed reduction,” Noguez said. “If you bought [a property] for $100,000 and now its assessed value is $200,000 and its market value is $1 million , you’re probably not going to get a reduction.”

Noguez said that the Assessor’s Office takes the theoretical rental value of a historic home and runs it through a complex formula that accounts for upkeep expenses and other variables to determine what, if any, Mills Act tax savings the owner will receive.

Even if a homeowner does receive a tax break, they can’t use their savings for a Caribbean vacation, Noguez said.

“That money that the property owner saves is…to go back into that property,” he said. “You do have a fiduciary responsibility as a steward to take care of that property.”

Last month the council directed city staff to incorporate into the new law wording that would enable retroactive application of the ordinance. As approved this week, the law establishes Jan. 1, 2000 as the cut-off date for restoration or preservation work to qualify retroactively.

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