When Seth Hiatt moved his wife and son to the area from Santa Cruz, he didn’t anticipate settling in Santa Clara. He works in Los Gatos, and his wife, Casey, works in Mountain View.
“We really like living in an older neighborhood. We are the kind of people who like old houses, and we like living around people who like older houses,” he said. “Santa Clara wasn’t really on our radar for places to live, but when we came into the old quad, it is really something.”
Hiatt’s home on Jefferson Street is part of a cluster of homes built to accommodate the builder’s children. Owning a home as old as his comes with its own set of challenges, Hiatt said, so he applied for a historic landmark designation under the Mills Act.
That request went through the Santa Clara Historic Landmarks Commission.
A Mills Act designation gives tax writeoffs to owners of up to 10 historic homes per year in Santa Clara. Each government establishes criteria for designating a home “historic,” which, according to the state of California, helps provide economic incentives that “foster the preservation of residential neighborhoods.”
Brian Johns, chair of the Historic Landmarks Commission, said homes like Hiatt’s help maintain Santa Clara’s character. Establishing the criteria for historic designations is the main focus of the Commission.
“Preserving historical properties helps give people a sense of where we came from,” Johns said. “If we can hold onto as much of that historical resources of what we have left, it will be a good reminder of where we came from and the importance of making good development decisions as we go forward,”
In addition to maintaining Mills Act designations, the seven-member Commission also catalogs historic names to help the City Council and developers in naming new streets and raises any concerns surrounding development that is on or within 100 feet of a designated historic site.
The Historic Landmarks Commission is seeking applicants to fill a vacancy on its board, which is appointed by the City Council. Johns said the commitment is between five and 10 hours a month, and the board prefers candidates who have professional knowledge of cultural anthropology or landscape architecture. The Commission is a good stepping-stone for those considering jobs in City government, he added.
Applicants must be at least 18-years-old and be eligible to register to vote in Santa Clara.
Although not a decision-making commission, Johns said the Historic Landmarks Commission’s role is to ensure the City Council and the public understand how development is affecting the city’s historic character.
“Our goal is to raise the issues and make sure people are aware of the choices they are making,” he said. “Just because something negatively affects a historic resource doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”
Hiatt said the Mills Act designation goes a long way to covering the costs associated with owning a historic home, something his family would otherwise be unable to afford without the Mills Act tax break.
“They seem to be pretty competent and know what they are talking about and be pretty thoughtful about the process,” Hiatt said. “In general, it is a great thing that they are doing this.”
Applications for the Historic Landmarks Commission must be submitted by 5 p.m. June 20. The Historic Landmarks Commission generally meets 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.