Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 10, 2023


Page 1


Historic Home May Be Altered Without EIR, C.A. Holds


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Depicted above is a home in Laguna Beach built in 1925. The Court of Appeal has held that the city properly ordered that construction of an addition may commence, with an environmental impact report.

Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday ordered publication of an opinion in which it rejects the contention of historic preservationists that the City of Laguna Beach improperly approved an addition to a Colonial-style home built in 1925.

An environmental impact report (“EIR”) is not required, under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Justice Joanne Motoike said in an opinion filed Sept. 13, under what is known as the “historical resource exemption.”

The city’s Heritage Committee in 2014 placed the structure, now owned by Ian and Cherlin Kirby, on its register of historic homes.

Under a guideline in the Code of Regulations, the jurist explained, no EIR is needed where refurbishing of a historic structure is consistent with the “Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.”

She declared:

“We conclude substantial evidence supports the City’s finding the project was exempt under the historical resource exemption because it was consistent with the Secretary’s Standards.”

Presumptive Historical Resource

Motoike went on to say:

“Because the Kirbys’ house is included in the City’s register of historical resources, it is considered a presumptive historical resource under CEQA….As a presumptive historical resource, a project involving it is subject to CEQA’s requirements unless the City, as the lead agency, concludes the project is exempt and if categorically exempt, an exception does not bar its application….

“The City determined the Kirbys’ project was categorically exempt from CEQA…. This means a project involving the rehabilitation of a historical resource is categorically exempt from CEQA if the project is consistent with the Secretary’s Standards and application of the exemption is not barred by an exception.”

Historic Preservationists’ Position

Opposing the 1,020-square-foot addition approved by the city are the Historic Architecture Alliance and the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition. They argued in their opening brief on appeal that the project would “materially alter the home and demolish original historic fabric of the resource.”

The appellants explained in a footnote:

“ ‘Historic fabric’ is a term of art referring to the original structure and materials of a historic building that contribute to its historic significance.”

Pinpointing the standard they argue applies, the two groups set forth:

“Once it has been determined that a resource is deemed historic under CEQA, as 369 Hawthorne Road has been by its listing on the City’s local register, the fair argument standard applies to determine whether a project may adversely impact that resource. This standard is a low threshold that is not deferential to lead agencies. Such a fair argument is established through substantial evidence, including fact-based expert opinions and reasonable assumptions based upon facts.”

Standard Inapplicable

Motoike responded:

“We conclude the fair argument standard does not apply in this situation.”

  She explained:

“To establish the historical resource exception, it is not enough to merely make a fair argument the project did not comply with the Secretary’s Standards.  If this was all the challenger had to establish, the historical resource categorical exemption would be meaningless….It would prohibit the agency from weighing the conflicting evidence and making a finding based upon the weight of the competing evidence.”

   The case is Historic Architecture Alliance v. City of Laguna Beach, G061671.


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