San Diego’s Preservation and Progress Initiative seeks to encourage development while protecting historic sites

San Diego officials rolled out this week tentative updates to the city’s Historic Preservation Program. The plan, outlined in the aptly titled Preservation and Progress Initiative, is meant to quicken the process of new home construction while simultaneously protecting historic architectural and cultural sites around the city.

Mayor Todd Gloria called the program a “top-to-bottom review of our historic preservation will ensure we are truly preserving the architecture and buildings that are historically significant to San Diego.” Gloria added that, while the Initiative is meant to protect San Diego’s historic architectural and cultural sites, the city will not tolerate it being used “to block revitalization and new home construction.”

“Many of our urban neighborhoods have wonderful historical resources worth preserving, as well as opportunities to add much-needed housing,” added San Diego City Council Member Stephen Whitburn. “Preservation and Progress will enable the city to more effectively and efficiently advance both of these important goals for current and future generations.”

Preservation and Progress likewise incentivizes the adaptive reuse of aging buildings, a press release stated, while encouraging city staffers to update policy and regulatory documents. This, its proponents say, will help San Diego’s preservation program weed out “inefficiencies and remove regulations unnecessarily impacting properties lacking historical or cultural importance.”

One of the more interesting provocations that Preservation and Progress makes is its distinguishing between Reactive versus Proactive Preservation. “The Heritage Preservation Program, in its current form, is largely reactive in nature,” the Initiative’s website stated, meaning a project is only nominated for historic designation if brought forth for a formal review or if a developer runs into an issue. A more proactive scheme could save both time and money.

The city has laid out a timeline for executing this “top-to-bottom review” starting with an ongoing public engagement period, in the spring the city hopes to start working on updating the policies and procedures, with public hearings on these slated to take place during the first half of 2025.

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