Norms is a historical landmark? Really?

There’s a big argument going on about whether the Norms Restaurant on La Cienega ought to be landmarked.

The argument illustrates everything that is wrong with the manner in which historical preservation is carried out in LA.

In LA, historical preservation is basically reactive. In other words, the community waits for a developer to pull a demolition permit. Then, people get really angry and start demanding someone “do something” about the threatened loss of some irreplaceable treasure (in this case, a prime example of Googie architecture from the 1950s). So, the city races to landmark the structure before the evil developer can pull it down.

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Can you imagine how screwed up it is that a developer can get the money together to do a project, actually buy the land, and then find that he can’t build what he was planning, not because he ignored any existing city rules, but because the rules were changed on him mid-stream?

That’s really, really bad public policy, because it increases the uncertainty associated with all development projects, thereby increasing the risk, thereby raising the hurdle rate a project needs to get over to get funding… and, therefore, reducing the number of projects that get built.

So, here’s a suggestion: Gather all the historical preservation folks. Proactively identify the buildings they want to save. Have a big fight up front, wherein some are included and some excluded from the protection list. Then, put in place a regular process for adding / subtracting from the list which includes a “warning period”, where buildings which might be subject to protection are identified as such well before they are actually protected.

The process outlined above would allow for reasonable historic preservation without creating uncertainty that unnecessarily retards development.