Every local government in California has the authority to adopt a local ordinance which provides regulations applicable to historic properties. Because every  community has different types of historic resources, populations, development pressures, etc., each local government should create a local historic preservation ordinance that best suits the needs and views of its community. While there is no standard "model" for what an ordinance should contain, historic preservation ordinances will typically include the following:

  • a provision for creation of a local historic preservation commission and the responsibilities and powers given to that commission;
  • an explanantion of the criteria used to determine what properties can be designated under the ordinance and the process for such designations;
  • a provision for granting economic hardship waiver;
  • a requirement that property owners maintain resources designated under the ordinance and guidelines for that maintenance.

Other key elements or issues that a historic preservation ordinance should address include the following:

  • Statement of purpose and enabling authority
  • Actions subject to review by commission and procedures for initiating the review
  • Preservation Incentives
  • Enforcement
  • Process for appealing commission decisions
  • Definition of key terms used in the ordinance


Drafting Effective Historic Preservation Ordinances (Technical Assistance Bulletin #14) identifies key issues that all communities should address when drafting or revising an ordinance and discusses the pros and cons of various approaches to each of those key issues, providing direction for each community to draft an ordinance that best fits their local conditions. The manual was originally prepared for OHP by Clarion Associates with a generous grant from the California Parks Foundation; OHP staff have made additions and revisions since its initial release in 2001.