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The Brown Act Makes Preservationists See Red

By Beth Montes

It started with a For Sale sign. Then there was the auction and the windows came out. In almost no time at all, it was gone, to be replaced by an empty lot with another For Sale sign.

And there was not a thing we could do about it.

Churches. In this case the Park Boulevard Methodist Church on Park Boulevard in Hillcrest (the Methodists did not cause the church to be demolished—they sold it to another religious group which destroyed it.) These lovely structures, both architecturally and culturally important, are under threat—particularly in California. In 1994, state legislators passed a law, sponsored by then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, giving religious groups a special exemption to demolish noncommercial property that no longer suited their needs or was too costly to maintain. Preservation groups brought suit, but in December 2000, the California Supreme Court, in a 4-to-3 decision, upheld the controversial law.

At the time, a state legal official said that the State was very pleased with the ruling and that the new law would not necessarily mean California churches would be demolished since preservation groups could still bring suit to challenge demolitions after religious leaders had invoked the exemption. What this means is that preservation groups would have to be on constant alert watching for churches to pull demolition permits instead of being able to take the proactive role of designating them landmarks.

Ultimately, this legislation needs to be rescinded. Until that time, SOHO needs your help to take a proactive role in working with church leaders to find alternatives to demolition when a building no longer suits the congregation's needs. Please contact the SOHO office if you learn of a threatened structure.

Of course, the destruction of our Park Boulevard Methodist Church might have been delayed or avoided had there been a law in place denying demolition permits unless there is an approved, viable, and well-financed project in the works. But that is a topic for a future message.

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 4

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The Brown Act Makes Preservationists See Red

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