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  • Jeffrey Siegel

Key findings from the 2019 Historic Survey support adoption of the Mills Act

Following on the heels of the publication of the 2019 Los Gatos Historic Survey, which found that 16.5% of historic homes existing in 1991 have been demolished, growing to 37% by 2030, the Los Gatos Town Council will be for the first time discussing the impact of these findings on the passive approach the town council has taken on historic preservation.

Clearly this is an unintended consequence of that hands-off approach, and raises the red flag signaling it is time to return to a serious recommitment to the town’s historic preservation code mandate.

By beginning to enforce the town code, particularly the ‘duty to keep in good repair’, the town council can begin to address the pervasive decay that effects many properties. In addition, by voting to adopt the California state historic preservation economic incentives, known as the Mills Act, already adopted by over one hundred other towns throughout the state, the town council can make these economic incentives available to owners of historic properties in Los Gatos. This in turn would boost property values throughout our historic neighborhoods and attract far more prospective homebuyers who today often shy away from investing in a historic home knowing that the higher maintenance costs can be avoided by buying a more contemporary home.

Up to now, the only thing that has prevented Los Gatos owners of historic (pre-1941) residences from accessing these state economic incentives has been the town council’s lack of adopting the Mills Act, which requires three of the five town council members to vote for its adoption.

In other words, if that historic property had been in Saratoga, San Jose, Campbell, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Monte Sereno, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, or any number of other towns, they would have already had access to these economic funds that help make possible the upkeep and restoration of historic properties.

Often times, it’s cheaper to bulldoze a house and build anew, than to undertake costly restorations, and this is happening today throughout the many neighborhoods of East Los Gatos, made up primarily of ranch-style homes. That same economics-driven approach has been a key driver in the loss of so many pre-1941 homes in the historic neighborhoods of Los Gatos over the past 28 years since the time of the 1991 historic survey.

But how much loss is enough before reaching the tipping point where the historic neighborhoods themselves are no longer historic? Already, many homes in our historic neighborhoods are no longer historic, having been replaced with newer homes, and this trend is accelerating. This represents an irreplaceable loss to our town, as we watch our history disappear before our eyes.

What makes Los Gatos most distinctive is its rich and unique history. Without that we risk becoming just another suburb of a large metropolitan area. It is the hope of the Los Gatos Historical Society that the town council will begin to take this matter seriously for the first time, and to take the actions needed, with urgency, to finally face the crisis head on.

The town council is scheduled to vote on adoption of the Mills Act, and we encourage all interested Los Gatos residents to attend that meeting, scheduled for September 17th at 7pm in the town council chambers. Please come join us to show your support and to send a clear message to the town council that it’s time for action, and that Los Gatos historic homeowners need to gain access to the state of California’s historical preservation economic incentives, joining the one hundred other towns who already benefit from this important enacted legislation dating back to 1972 when these economic incentives were used to save the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego from the wrecking ball.

Today, over a thousand San Diego historic homeowners use the economic incentives, which are derived from a reduction in their property taxes, for maintaining their homes in pristine condition. As a result, the property values in their historic neighborhoods have risen far greater (double digits) than the overall San Diego housing market.

Los Gatos – No Longer Left Behind!

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