PLEASANT HILL -- Planning commissioners believe the city should develop criteria to determine whether a property is historically significant, but they said such a designation should only be made with the owner's consent.
Those criteria could guide the community or the Pleasant Hill Historical Society in suggesting that a property be considered for special protection.
"It's really important to have better standards, objective standards, in determining if a property is historic," commissioner Alex Greenwood said during the Oct. 22 meeting.
Since 1996, the city's zoning ordinance has included policies related to the preservation of historic and cultural resources. But many of the ordinance's provisions have never been implemented.
After the "dome" movie theater was demolished in May, the City Council asked the Planning Commission to gather public input about how to tackle historic preservation, and to provide recommendations to the council by the end of the year.
The commissioners also are recommending that the council scrap a list of 17 potentially historic structures included in the city's general plan and not form the cultural resource management commission.
If appointed, the commission would have wide-ranging responsibilities, including identifying cultural resources, advising the council on designating historic districts and approving permits to remodel cultural resources.
Commissioners maintained that the commission isn't needed due to the dearth of historically significant properties in Pleasant Hill and multiple layers of oversight the environmental review process, Architectural Review Commission and the Planning Commission provide.
All the structures included on the list of potentially historic properties are privately owned, 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. Rodgers Ranch is the only site in Pleasant Hill listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Residents also have said Diablo Valley College, Mangini Farm and Caspers Famous Hot Dogs are deserving of historical designation.
Homeowners strongly opposed their inclusion on the list and decried any city role in determining what they can do with their properties.
"This proposal shows an arrogant disregard for property owners and their private property. It also fits, basically, a very narrow agenda of a small amount of people," said David Roche, whose family barn is on the list.
But some residents argued in favor of forming the cultural resource management commission.
"We do need to identify the historical and cultural resources in Pleasant Hill before they are all gone," Sharon Peterson said.
Of the properties on the list, Greenwood said only the Soldiers Monument, Rodgers Ranch and the School House deserve recognition from the city.
"Those three really break away from the pack as being worthy of landmark status," said Greenwood, the only one to support creating the commission. "Important things happened on each of these properties; they've been a public part of this community and are deserving of prioritizing for preservation."
Since the ranch and the monument are protected, the commissioners may urge the council to consult with the recreation district to re-evaluate the appropriate status of the School House.
They also encouraged the council to work with the Civic Arts Commission to look into bolstering cultural offerings in Pleasant Hill such as theater, independent films and public art.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.