Form a committee. To spearhead the effort, "Organize a small committee to set direction and to handle most of the legwork and document preparation," advises Suzanne Shea, who followed this strategy in creating a single-story overlay for her Eichler neighborhood in Sunnyvale.
Get online. Start a neighborhood website.
Review CC&Rs. Consult neighborhood CC&Rs to see if they call for architectural review. Ditto city zoning codes.
Recruit diverse volunteers. If new architectural guidelines are needed, Denise Jerome of River City Commons in Sacramento suggests to "find volunteers...willing to work for two years on the guidelines, with varying skills or hobbies such as landscape designer/architect, horticulturist, architects, logical design, handyman, writing, organizing, project management, photography, document management, perseverance, legal areas."
Appraise home exteriors. Survey your neighborhood house by house to determine how architecturally intact it remains. For survey forms and instruction, contact your local planning department or the state Office of Historic Preservation. Also, find out if someone has already done such a survey or plans to do one. The city of Los Angeles is gearing up for SurveyLA, a citywide survey of potentially significant structures. Caltrans is also surveying neighborhoods throughout the state that may be affected by future highway work. And some local preservation organizations have surveyed historic areas.
Use surveys as educational tools. Don't let your completed survey molder! Use it to increase appreciation for your neighborhood's assets. Publish it with photos and put it on the web. Place copies in libraries, community centers, and at city hall.
Win over government. To win backing of city or county government, Doug Kramer of Rancho Estates in Long Beach suggests: "The key thing is to have an association and to ensure that association is communicating effectively with their council person, with their homeowners, with their neighbors."
Anticipate opposition. "Shortly before the planning commission and city council hearings, go to city hall and check in the file for your application, note if anyone is objecting and what their concerns are," Shea says. "Also, read the planning staff analysis and recommendations, so you can be prepared to respond to any concerns at the hearings."
Get supporter turnout. "Make sure to have a large turnout at hearings," Shea says. "Have many people speak, but keep it brief and each cover a different aspect. Don't repeat yourselves."
Dramaticize your case. At public meetings, dramatic presentations help. To illustrate why two-story homes wouldn't work in their neighborhood, Sunnyvale residents displayed a slide of one of their neighbors trying to enjoy pizza at home—while waving through his wall of glass at what a neighbor in a proposed two-story home would be able to see—everything!
Investigate registries. To seek a spot on the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources, contact the state's Office of Historic Preservation. Applications are reviewed by the office's staff, then by the Historical Resources Commission. The commission makes recommendations for national recognition to the National Park Service.
Review prior successes. Talk to residents of other neighborhoods who have created overlay zones or instituted architectural review to find out how they did it. Several of these neighborhoods have been profiled in CA-Modern. Stay strong. And, Denise Jerome urges, "Be persistent, and don't give up hope."
• For detailed information about preparing a nomination, see the state Register of Historical Resources.
• For information on the Mills Act, which offers tax breaks to owners of qualifying historic properties, visit the Office of Historic Preservation's site.
• The California Preservation Foundation, an advocacy organization, offers advice and guidance. 415-495-0349, or e-mail director Cindy Heitzman.
• The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the leading preservation advocacy group in the country. They publish a wide range of useful, hands-on publications. 202-588-6000.