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Local Government Assistance

Why Preservation Matters at the Local Level

Historic resources are important community assets:
• they provide tangible links to the community's historical and cultural heritage 
• they help create each community’s special character and identity
• they represent investments in energy, time, money, and raw materials 
• the maintenance, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse of older buildings creates economic benefits locally and are sustainable and green practices

Wise assets management involves:
• respecting their value
• prolonging their life
• effectively using them to derive multiple benefits
• acting in a stewardship role

OHP promotes a comprehensive approach to historic preservation at the local level which:

  • Is based on federal and state standards for identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment of historical resources
  • Integrates preservation planning into the broader context of overall community land use planning and development processes
  • Is responsive to the particular needs and resources of each community
  • Provides economic incentives for historic preservation
  • Benefits from informed public participation


OHP’s Local Government and Environmental Compliance Unit offers guidance and assistance to city and county governments in the following areas:

  • Drafting or updating historic preservation plans and ordinances
  • Developing historic context statements
  • Planning for and conducting architectural, historical, and archeological surveys
  • Developing criteria for local designation programs, historic districts, historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZs), and conservation districts
  • Developing and implementing design guidelines using the Secretary of the Interior's Standards
  • Developing economic incentives for historic preservation
  • Training local historic preservation commissions and review boards
  • Meeting CEQA responsibilities with regard to historical resources


OHP also administers the Certified Local Government Program (CLG).  OHP distributes at least 10% of its annual federal Historic Preservation Fund allocation to CLGs through a competitive grant program to assist CLGs in preservation planning activities.

Accessory Dwelling Units and Historic Preservation

Recently, in order to address housing needs in the state, the California legislature amended state law that streamlines the approval process and expands capacity to accommodate the development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in single family and multifamily zones. Under the conditions specified in the law, a local agency must ministerially approve an application for a building permit to create an ADU.

How does this affect historic properties?

First, we recommend that you read the actual regulatory language found in the "Planning and Land Use" section of the California Government Code, in particular section 65852.2, and the Accessory Dwelling Unit Memorandum published by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (December 2016). 

Local ADU Ordinance with Design Review
While every local agency must approve an ADU if it consistent with state law, it has the opportunity to pass a local ADU ordinance that imposes  standards on ADUs including, but are not limited to, parking,  height, setback, lot coverage, landscape, architectural review and the maximum size of a unit. While this provision is not specific to historic properties, it does allow the adoption of design review standards that could benefit historic properties and neighborhoods.

Prevention of Adverse Impacts on California Register Properties 
In addition, an agency may impose standards that prevent adverse impacts on any real property that is listed in the California Register of Historic Places [Californian Register of Historical Resources].

Section 5024.1(d) of the California Public Resources Code defines what is included in the California Register.

Exemption of Parking Standards in Historic Districts 
In addition, whether or not a local agency has adopted an ADU ordinance, it may not impose parking standards for an ADU that is located within an architecturally and historically significant historic district. 

Mills Act

The Mills Act Property Tax Abatement Program is the single most important preservation incentive program in California. Mills Act contracts are between the property owner and the local government granting the tax abatement. Each jurisdiction individually determines the criteria and requirements for participation. Not all local governments participate in the Mills Act Program. Questions regarding the specific terms of Mills Act contracts should be addressed to the local government within whose jurisdiction the property is located.

2018 Local Government Workshops

The California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) is pleased to announce our 2018 Local Government Education Workshop Series. The OHP is committed to providing educational opportunities to local communities throughout the state.

In 2018, we are partnering with local governments throughout the state to host this series of historic preservation training opportunities. Attendees will learn how to help initiate policies to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in California. Please visit our Local Government Training Workshops Page and consider signing up for a session near you. 

Resources for Local Governments

Law and the Historic Preservation Commission: What Every Member Needs to Know

Top Ten List of Incongruous Behaviors

For the Record: The NAPC Short Guide to Parliamentary Procedure

Local Preservation Ordinances: Making them Work for Your Community

Building a Defensible Record

All the World's a Stage: How to Conduct a Preservation Commission Meeting

When Historic Properties are Threatened

Assessing Economic Hardship Claims Under Historic Preservation Ordinances

Demolition by Neglect

Protecting Potential Landmarks through Demolition Review

Establishing a Demolition by Neglect Ordinance

Economic Benefits of Preservation: "Sustainability, Smart Growth, and Historic Preservation"

The National Trust for Historic Preservation - How to Fund Your Preservation Project