The City of San Juan Capistrano is committed to preserving its unique cultural heritage. In 1996, the City adopted the motto "Preserving the Past to Enhance the Future." In 2003, the City created a Historic Preservation Manager position to oversee its historic preservation programs. The City maintains a list of designated landmarks as well as a list of potential landmarks, owns a number of historic properties, has a Cultural Heritage Commission, and sponsors or participates in a variety of historic and cultural events and activities, including architectural and historic walking tour docent training and an annual Historic Preservation Week celebration.
Here is a current project that may interest you:
Montanez Adobe Now Open!
This amazing Adobe can now be seen most days of the week thanks to our wonderful group of volunteer docents. It is also featured when you take the tour led by our Historical Walking Tour Guides or by appointment (call 949-493-8444). If you are interested in future opportunities to be a docent or other City volunteer, just complete a City Volunteer Application form and submit it to the Human Resources Department.
- Can City funds be provided to rehabilitate or maintain designated landmarks?
Neither the Cultural Heritage Commissioner nor the City Council currently expends funds to rehabilitate or maintain privately owned landmarks. However, on occasion, the City has information available concerning grant programs that might be available through other resources.
- How can you provide further assistance to the City's preservation efforts?
The preservation and protection of your designated landmark is of interest to all within the community. Your landmark provides the community with a sense of identity and promotes community pride. You are strongly encouraged to attend the meetings of the Cultural Heritage Commission and assist them in promoting a greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation for the heritage of our community. There are also City programs, like City Guides, that teach interested individuals in how to be a docent for Architectural and Historic Walking Tours as well as lecture series and special tours of historic buildings and sites. Your participation in a strong preservation program is greatly needed and public input is extremely valuable, welcomed and encouraged.
- How is a landmark designated?
The normal process whereby a landmark is designated is as follows:
- An owner may submit a request for designation directly to the City, or the City Council may refer a designation recommendation to the Cultural Heritage Commission.
- To submit a request, an owner prepares or hires someone to prepare a historical report regarding the significance of a landmark and submits the necessary application to the Planning Department.
- Staff presents a recommendation regarding the designation to the Cultural Heritage Commission.
- The Commission reviews the significance of the landmark and makes a recommendation as to whether or not designation is appropriate and warranted.
- The Commission's recommendation is reviewed and considered by the City Council.
- If found significant, the City Council adopts a resolution to officially designate the landmark.
- May a landmark be sold or leased without City approval?
Neither the Cultural Heritage Commission nor the City has to be notified or approve the sale or lease of a designated landmark. However, notice of designation should be registered in the chain of title and the new owner/lessee should be made aware of the designation status. In addition, in order to maintain proper ownership lists and provide valuable information to owners, it is requested that the secretary to the Cultural Heritage Commission be notified upon the change of ownership of a designated landmark.
- What are the basic categories of designation for cultural resources?
There are three basic categories into which significant cultural resources are designated:
- Historic Building, Object or Site: A historic building, object or site is one which has been found to have significance to the community as a whole and has been officially designated on the Inventory of Historic and Cultural Landmarks by resolution of the City Council as being worthy of public interest and protection.
- Historic District: A historic district is a collection of buildings or sites which, although perhaps not all qualifying individually, as a group they have been found to have significance to the community as a whole and have also been officially designated on the Inventory of Historic and Cultural Landmarks by resolution of the City Council as being worthy of public interest and protection.
- Building or Site of Distinction: A building or site of distinction is one that is unique and of interest to the community as a whole and may be potentially historic.
Due to perhaps age or alteration, some may not qualify for more formal designation and protection. Others may qualify for more formal designation and protection when the owner desires to have the building or site considered for designation.
- What benefits does landmark designation have?
Once a landmark has been designated it is afforded certain protections and privileges. These include the Site Plan Review Process, Historic Building Fee Waiver, Historic Building Code, and Mills Act Tax Relief.
- Site Plan Review Process: If an owner should wish to alter, add onto, relocate or demolish a landmark, a permit for such action from the city is required through the Site Plan Review (SPR) process. (See SPR Brochure [PDF])
- Historic Building Fee Waiver: The payment of fees that might otherwise be assessed for preservation work may be able to be waived (e.g., inspection and permit fees) for designated buildings based on certain criteria.
- Historic Building Code: Designated landmarks are eligible for application of the State Historical Building Code, thus allowing owners to use alternate, less costly means of satisfying building code requirements when undertaking rehabilitation or preservation work.
- Mills Act Tax Relief: Certain designated landmarks may be eligible to realize tax benefits. Historic properties listed on the City's Inventory of Historic and Cultural Landmarks (IHCL) are eligible to apply to the City to enter into a Mills Act Contract which can reduce real property taxes. According to the County Tax Assessor office personnel, tax assessments can be reduced by 15% to 60%.
- Why designate landmarks?
The purpose of designation is to identify a structure, site, or object which is significant to the City’s history, is associated with an individual or event significant to the City’s history, or plays a significant role in the cultural continuity of the community. By means of such designation, the community is able to place some means of control and oversight upon the landmark, as well as offer its owner benefits in the hope of ensuring its continued existence for the benefit of present and future generations.