PLEASANT HILL -- In this a city that is only about half a century old, the debate over what qualifies as "historic" includes houses, an old barn and a former grammar school.
After the "dome" movie theater was demolished in May, the City Council asked the Planning Commission to hold a workshop to gather public input about how to tackle the issue of historic preservation, and to provide recommendations to the council by the end of the year.
At the meeting last week, commissioners heard from Pleasant Hill residents who believe the push for development endangers the city's cultural and historic assets, and from those who say preservation shouldn't trump their right to remodel or otherwise alter their homes. Based on that discussion, the commission will review possible recommendations at the Oct. 22 meeting.
Since 1996, the city's zoning ordinance has included policies related to historical preservation. But many of the ordinance's provisions -- including the formation of a cultural resource management commission and a comprehensive survey of the city's cultural heritage resources -- have never been implemented.
Adopted in 2003, the General Plan includes a list of 17 potentially historic structures, two of which have since been demolished. All the structures are private homes, except for Contra Costa County's World War I Monument and Rodgers Ranch and the Old School House, which the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District owns. Residents also have said Diablo Valley College, Mangini Farm and Caspers Hot Dogs are deserving of historical designation.
"We really need to back way up and say, what gets a property on any kind of a list and do we need a list at all?" Commissioner Diana Vavrek said.
The Pleasant Hill Historical Society selected the sites on the list based on their architectural significance or ties to families that settled the area, according to Denise Koroslev, president of the society and the Friends of Rodgers Ranch.
"When you start removing old buildings or buildings that are deemed undesirable, it's like erasing the city's memory," said Koroslev, who lives in Martinez.
Several homeowners expressed dismay that their properties are on the list.
"Old is not historical," said David Roche, whose family barn is on the list. Although he has no plans to tear it down, Roche said his family -- not the city -- ultimately should determine the barn's fate.
Kristy Safarians, whose Boyd Road house also is on the list, said she wrote the city a letter of protest in 2003.
"I don't want someone to have the right to tell me what I can and can't do to my house," an emotional Safarians told the commissioners.
But Heather Bradford, an archaeologist and historical society member, suggested that property owners and history buffs need a forum to discuss what it means to preserve a site.
"'Preserve' doesn't have to mean keep everything exactly as it is," Bradford said. "There is flexibility." Commissioner Alex Greenwood said he believes historic preservation can enhance a community, but he argued that only sites that are in a prominent location, have distinctive architecture and say something about the city's history should be protected. Under those criteria, Greenwood said the city should focus on preserving the war monument and the school house and leave the barn and houses alone.
Under the zoning ordinance, the cultural resource management commission would have wide-ranging responsibilities including identifying cultural resources, advising the council on designating historic districts and approving permits to remodel cultural resources. Most of the planning commissioners seemed to be leaning toward advising the council to appoint members to the commission, but suggested that it include more than one Pleasant Hill resident.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.