The Gaytonia apartment complex was one of nine recipients of Mills Act tax breaks. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
With a unanimous vote by the Long Beach City Council, nine historic properties in the city were awarded contracts that will lessen property taxes for the owners, in return for preservation and rehabilitation efforts to be carried out on the properties under the Mills Act.
The state law enacted in 1972 allows local governments to reassess property taxes for owners of historic sites under the premise that the money saved will go toward maintenance of the sites.
Tuesday night’s vote reassessed the value of nine buildings, including the Gaytonia Apartment complex, the Kimpson Nixon House and the former office building of Edward Killingsworth, the architect who designed several buildings in the city including City Hall and the master plan for Cal State Long Beach.
“I’d say without hesitation that these properties represent the entire spectrum of the historic properties that are landmarked within the city,” said Director of Development Services Amy Bodek. “They do cover a very unique single-family residential homes and they do cover some of our commercial buildings that are also landmarked. You probably know most of these just by looking at their name and address which should point to their notoriety.”
A Mills Act program was established in the city in 1993, and over the first 13 years of the program the city entered into over 30 such agreements with historical properties and their owners. However, the city has not issued any Mills Act contracts since 2007 after it announced that budgetary and staffing constraints necessitated the moratorium on new contracts. All previous contracts are renewed on a 10 year basis unless otherwise cancelled by the city.
In January the city announced that it had approved new priority consideration guidelines for Mills Act contracts that would address properties previously not processed, despite the law’s aim to address both old and new landmark sites. Of the eleven contracts that were received by the city before the July 17 deadline, two were deemed ineligible, with one building’s valuation being higher than the maximum under the city’s guidelines and another because of an unresolved legal issue.
“This year we're a little bit selective in only choosing to work with those properties who have already been landmarked within the City of Long Beach and offered the Mills Act process to those home owners or property owners,” Bodek said. “We hope to expand the program to a larger audience next year and hopefully those property owners who own properties that may not be designated historic, we would do a combination process as we have done in the past.”
Work orders were outlined for each property in the contract-awarding process, requiring routine repairs involving leaks, new paint and other aesthetic upgrades like Gaytonia’s neon sign. The repairs range in cost from the low hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars with the owners being granted several years in some cases to complete the improvements. The decrease in property taxes for the sites could range from 30 percent to 50 percent.
The properties will undergo routine monitoring by the city to make sure that their contractual obligations are being satisfied. The contracts will be renewed annually unless the city finds cause to terminate the Mills Act agreements with the individual property owners.