As the current Chairman of the Cultural Heritage Committee, and the owner of a Mills Act Historic Property in the City of San Luis Obispo, I’d like to respond to Richard Schmidt’s commentary in the May 20 edition (“Scrutinize Mills Act tax breaks”).
Sadly, he has chosen to attack one of the most significant incentive programs that is offered to those who choose to preserve their historic properties. This program actually was started as a pilot program back in 1996. It is a contract between the property owner and the City with the sole purpose of preserving, maintaining, and even improving the properties in return for property tax savings. It has been a success in most eyes: Preserving the historic character and charm of San Luis Obispo has been identified as a top priority by the residents of this community and the City Council. This program is available to more than 175 Master List Properties in the City.
I can assure you that most of the 42 property owners on this contract invest far more to preserve their properties than the tax savings they realize each year. I can personally attest to that with my recent window replacements that required “historically sensitive elements” in the new windows.
I hardly think the savings are the only incentive. If you sit in on any of the CHC meetings when we’re considering a Mills Act Contract, you’ll notice a passion from the property owner. There’s nothing hidden or deceptive in the application process or fees. The fees charged are based on costs incurred by the City, with consideration to the county assessor’s office for its property tax oversight. These are determined, as are all fees, by the City Council.
The Mills Act Contract can be terminated on any property, at any time by a recommendation from the CHC, and an action by the City Council. Only when preservation, maintenance, and upkeep are being ignored would this be considered. When the property on Chorro Street that Schmidt referred to was brought up for Mills Act consideration, I believe the intent of all parties was to preserve the resource. The committee did not know that the house would be virtually torn down and reconstructed. This was not the project presented to the CHC for recommendation. The CHC has since reevaluated its approach to Mills Act approval recommendation, and will be reconsidering the Chorro Street property in the near future. That’s part of our ongoing task. As sworn members of this advisory body, we take our duties and responsibilities very seriously. We’re obligated in our purview to be good stewards of policy and maintain the level of integrity that the residents of this city have become accustomed to. That will not change.
To suggest that the City is perversely implementing the Mills Act program is a judgment that has no basis. The answer to the Scmidt’s last two questions is simply, yes! The public benefit is residents and visitors alike can enjoy the character and charm that our historic community exudes. And yes, that brings dollars to the City so businesses can employ people, and services we all take for granted can be continued and enhanced. Unquestionably, the Mills Act Program is worth continuing.
I invite everyone who’s interested in seeing the committed work of this seven-volunteer advisory body to visit a CHC meeting on the fourth Monday of the month in the council hearing room, at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome.
Chairman, Cultural Heritage Committee
San Luis Obispo