L.A. Considers Honoring Civil Rights-Era Housing Activist by Making It Harder To Build Housing

Loren Miller was a lawyer and civil rights activist who ended racist restrictions on blacks owning houses. Los Angeles preservationists are trying to honour his legacy and prevent the redevelopment a single-family house he lived in.

Los Angeles’ Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC), voted on Thursday to accept a request from Teresa Grimes, preservationist, to place in landmark status a 2-story, 2-bedroom home in Silver Lake that Miller lived and worked in between 1940 and 1967.

Miller, according to the application, worked during that period on several landmark civil rights lawsuits.

He was a successful lawyer who represented black homeowners of Los Angeles’ Sugar Hills, who had been sued by white neighbors over violating restrictive covenants that prohibited the sale or purchase of their properties to non-whites. Miller served as co-counsel with Thurgood Marshall (the future Supreme Court Justice) in the historic 1948 Supreme Court Case. Shelley v Kraemer, in which the Court ruled that government enforcement of racially restrictive covenants was unconstitutional.

Miller’s work in housing matters earned him a prominent legal figure within the civil rights movement. Curbed According to him, he was called “Mr. Civil Rights.” He lives in a modest Silver Lake house, something that the commissioners openly admitted at Thursday’s hearing.

Architecture is not the main determining factor. Barry Milofsky, President of the CHC Commission said that he doesn’t believe anyone would consider this architecturally important. Milofsky acknowledged that it was important to remember, honor, and celebrate the rich history of this home.

Representatives from the L.A. Silver Lake Heritage Trust, Conservancy, and Conservancy both spoke for Miller’s landmarking at the meeting.

Edgar and Eugenia Gonzales, who were listed in the commission records as current homeowners of the property through a trust family, were absent from proceedings. The Miller property will not be landmarked if the process is successful. This would severely limit the rights of the Miller couple to modify or redevelop the Miller house.

Staff at the Commission stated that they had notified the Gonzalezs of the hearing on Thursday. Grimes claimed that she contacted the owners to file the landmarking application, but did not receive a reply.

L.A. law requires demolition permits for “Historic-Cultural Monuments”—something that would be needed if one wanted to redevelop the property—to be reviewed by the heritage commission. They can be delayed by the commission for up to 180 days or 360 days if approved by the city council.

A FAQ by the Office of Historic Resources states that monuments can be considered historic resources under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This means any request for demolition permits might need to include an Environmental Impact Report.

These reports are often lengthy and expensive, sometimes costing thousands or more. If an environmental impact report is not thorough enough, third parties can sue. This could extend the process even further.

This would be an obvious barrier to the Miller’s home being redeveloped into a triplex or duplex, which is allowed under the property’s Zoning. It’s not only a matter of property rights that you should oppose historic preservation laws, which do not require consent from the owner. L.A. does.

Miller’s former home was landmarked partly to prevent redevelopment. Grimes wrote just “zoning” on the part of the application that requires one to mention physical threats to the property.

Los Angeles officials may impose restrictions on Miller’s home. This is a particularly ironic possibility.

Redeveloping his one-time home, which Redfin lists at $1.4 million, into a multi-unit development would allow several families to split those high land costs between them—making the property more affordable to more people.

Because two- or three-unit houses can be less expensive than single-family homes, many state legislatures and city councils have proposed to legalize this type of “missing middle.”

While zoning reform advocates often mention the racist history of single-family-only “exclusionary” zoning, they also point to the legacy of single-family-only zoned. They argue that by making neighbourhoods more affordable you will make them more diverse and inclusive.

But landmarking a house once owned by Miller—who spent his career agitating for more inclusive housing—would make it much more difficult for its owners to convert it into this kind of more inclusive housing if they wanted to. The animating purpose behind his work seems to be that the structure Miller lived in should not be preserved.

CHC members have until May 20th to cast their votes on Miller’s landmark home. The city council will then vote on the final approval.