Friday, March 4, 2011

Village Green Approved for Mills Act

Hi!  This is my first post for this blog, which will explore the history of Baldwin Hills Village and the surrounding community. Through projects on the Board, and through other initiatives with some of our committees, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of research on this history. Several people have suggested the idea of a blog dealing with Village Green history, and I'm often asked for advice from people who are taking on restoration projects in their own units. I thought that sharing some of this information with you might be interesting and perhaps helpful. This will be a little more important now that the Village Green was approved for Mills Act status recently.

Some of the upcoming posts will feature biographical sketches of the visionary architects, landscape architect and planner responsible for the success of the community. I'll also talk about some of the adjacent buildings, like the school, church and shopping center, all designed by many of the same architects.  

I'll describe some of the original character defining features of the community, including not only elements like the landscape or the architecture, but also interior details in bathrooms and kitchens - for those who might be interested in restoring some of those features, or using them as inspiration for rehabilitation projects.

Perhaps some interviews with people who have lived here through the years, or relatives of those on the original design team.

Finally, articles about events which impacted the Village, such as the Baldwin Hills Flood of 1963, or the conversion to condominium in the 1970's.

For this first article, I want to talk a little bit more about the Mills Act – and also to answer some questions I’ve gotten from some of you in the community. While not exactly dealing with the history of Baldwin Hills Village, I think this information is important and timely.


I'm happy to report that in December, 2010, the city of Los Angeles approved Village Green for Mills Act. Here is the Office of Historic Resources newsletter announcing it:

It has been a long process, with many obstacles, but we did it! 

When I moved to the Village in early 2005, I attended a Town Hall meeting put on by the Grant Committee. Lambert Giessinger from the city of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources gave a talk and answered questions about the possibility of the Village Green participating in the Mills Act. Because the Mills Act was tailored for single family homes, at that time no multi-family properties were participating in the program, and the obstacles seemed rather daunting.

A year or two later, a developer bought an historic building in downtown Los Angeles, obtained Mills Act status for the building, and then proceeded to subdivide it and sell the units as condominium lofts. Those condominiums were sold with the Mills Act status already built-in. That paved the way for our participation, providing a model for a contract.

Robert Nicolais and I then attended a meeting at City Hall with Lambert and Ken Bernstein, where they gave us some tasks to start the ball rolling. The first task: to determine how much tax revenue the city would be missing out on if the Village were to participate in Mills Act. With so many units - 629 - the amount was going to be large, and the Mills Act program had a cap of $1 million in revenue loss.

So, I got a small group of interested homeowners together, and we divided up all 629 units, and entered the addresses into the tax assessor's website, obtained the parcel numbers, and then entered all 629 parcel numbers into the tax assessor's website, to get the property tax paid for each unit that year - 2007.

I want to thank those who helped with that early task - Chris Fairbanks, Susan Edwards, Euna Kim, Christian Daniels, Rick Miller, Vincent Moccia and Joe Khoury.

Next, Joe Khoury took the Mills Act formula spreadsheet from the Office of Historic Resources website, and using rental data provided by realtor Dolores Roberts (and other necessary figures) worked out the adjusted Mills Act tax for the different floor plan types. Our small working group got the adjusted Mills Act property tax dollar figure for all 629 units; entered that information into a spreadsheet - along with the 2007 property taxes paid - to determine the difference in property tax revenue.

That property tax revenue data was then provided to the city.  Fortunately, the total revenue loss didn't put them over their million dollar cap.

The next task: A new requirement - a document was required for larger properties called a Historic Structure Report (HSR). According to the National Park Service, "A historic structure report provides documentary, graphic, and physical information about a property's history and existing condition. Broadly recognized as an effective part of preservation planning, a historic structure report also addresses management or owner goals for the use or re-use of the property. It provides a thoughtfully considered argument for selecting the most appropriate approach to treatment, prior to the commencement of work, and outlines a scope of recommended work. The report serves as an important guide for all changes made to a historic property during a project-repair, rehabilitation, or restoration-and can also provide information for maintenance procedures. Finally, it records the findings of research and investigation, as well as the processes of physical work, for future researchers."

After interviewing several historic preservation architectural firms, we decided on Architectural Resources Group (ARG), and the Board voted in September 2009 to hire ARG to complete our HSR.

I worked with Katie Horak and a small team of historic preservation historians and architects from ARG over the next several months, and a draft of the report was provided in the early spring of 2010.  If you're interested in seeing this impressive document in its final form, it's available for download on our website:

I next contacted a Land Use Attorney with experience in multi-family Mills Act contracts, and a draft Mills Act contract was created and submitted to the city for review. More meetings and hearings at City Hall followed, as well as a meeting with the tax assessor assigned to the Village Green. She and the Office of Historic Resources were interested in knowing how many of the 629 homeowners might be delinquent in their property taxes. A relatively large number might jeopardize our qualification.

I quickly went back through and entered all 629 parcel numbers (again) to determine how many owners were delinquent. Fortunately, relatively few were, and the city and tax assessor were satisfied.

Then more meetings at City Hall, including a meeting at the office of Councilmember Bernard C. Parks.

One component of the Mills Act application was a volume of 8 x 10 and 4 x 5 black and white prints of all sides of every residential building - there are 95. Also, shots of the Administration Building and the old Clubhouse, and a good representation of several typical garage buildings. Over a period of several weeks, I went around the Village and took all the required photographs, had them printed, and placed them in a very large album, labeling each photograph with descriptions.

The Board held several working sessions to develop and approve a 10-year list of Mills Act projects. The Board then voted to approve applying for Mills Act - which we finally did, in May, 2010.  

In October a hearing was held with the Cultural Heritage Commission, and Katie Horak from ARG and I gave a presentation to the Commission, who then voted to approve our exemption (required for multi-family properties whose property tax value assessment exceeds $3 million, which ours did).  

City Council finally voted to approve the Village Green for Mills Act (the largest Mills Act contract to date) in December, 2010.

When I get more information from the city about any next steps, I'll communicate those. All 629 units will be reappraised by the property tax assessor in the March to June timeframe, with October 2011 property tax statements showing the new Mills Act property tax amount, unless your old Prop 13 amount is already lower.


·         What is the Mills Act?
     The Mills Act Historical Property Contract Program allows qualified owners of historic properties to receive property tax reduction and use that savings to help offset the costs to rehabilitate, restore and maintain their properties. Program participants need to have a plan to restore and rehabilitate the property.
     The Mills Act is for property owners who are actively rehabilitating and maintaining their properties, or who have a plan to do so that is compliant with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. As the City nears full program capacity, the city is taking steps to ensure that the Mills Act benefits target those properties with the greatest need. By our initial estimates, Village Green homeowners will save approximately $600,000 in property tax each year, combined.

·         When will the Mills Act take effect?
     The Village Green became a Mills Act property in December of 2010. Homeowners should begin to see tax savings later this year. The tax assessor will begin the process of reassessing all 629 units between March and June 2011.  Your October 2011 tax statements should show both your “normal” property tax rate, and your new Mills Act property tax rate. You will pay the lower of the two rates—the new Mills Act may be the lower of the two.

·         Am I going to have to turn over *all* my tax savings to the VGOA?
     No—none at this point. Based on our estimates from last year, a majority of homeowners will see some property tax benefit later this year—some will save tens of dollars; others will save thousands of dollars per year. None of that will need to be turned over directly to the HOA. By simply paying your monthly assessment, your Mills Act obligation will be met. 

·         Will the VGOA send us an additional bill, above our HOA dues, to recover these Mills Act funds I received as a tax savings?
     No, the HOA will not be sending homeowners an additional bill for Mills Act tax savings.

·         Will a city assessor need to come to my home to determine my new tax?
     It’s not likely. The tax assessors will use a formula to determine the new Mills Act property tax. This will be done at their office in Culver City, using data they have on file.

·         Will city inspectors be visiting my home to inspect any changes I made to my unit? 
       With 629 units at Village Green, the city inspectors don’t have the time to inspect changes made to your unit, unless there is reason to believe significant changes were made without permission and which don’t conform to code or to Mills Act standards. They do have the right to inspect, however, under the conditions of the contract. They also encourage Mills Act participants to actively update the Office of Historic Resources on progress made, which might minimize the time the city spends monitoring our collective progress.

·         Will the VG Board be monitoring and enforcing non-historic changes made to units now? 
     The VG Board, working with the Design Review Committee (DRC), has always made an effort to monitor and enforce non-historic or unapproved changes to units. In the last year or so, the DRC has been more proactive. DRC began a court-by-court survey of every unit at the Village Green, photographing each building elevation and making note of out-of-compliance exterior changes. Letters have been sent to those owners who are in violation, and hearings have been scheduled to give owners an opportunity to correct these unauthorized changes, or dispute them.

·         Can I use my tax savings to make changes/improvements on the interior of my unit? And can I do so instead of sending the $$ to the VGOA?
     You may use the tax savings to make improvements to your unit.

·        Does the Association have any liability regarding Mills Act compliance? When does the penalty apply to the Mills Act?
     Under the terms of the Mills Act contract, the HOA agreed to a list of projects mutually agreed upon by the VGOA and the city of Los Angeles. Before the Mills Act was approved, the Board was confident that we would be able to tackle these projects in the next 10 years, whether or not the Mills Act was approved. If for some reason the HOA does not maintain the condition of the Village Green and does not fulfill that part of the Mills Act contract, the City may cancel the contract. If that were to happen, the county auditor collects a cancellation fee of 12½ percent of the current fair market value of the property as determined by the county assessor.

·         Who will administer the Mills Act for the Association?
     The Board of Directors is responsible for seeing that the terms of the Mills Act contract are met, working with the city of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources.

·         Are some of the items listed on the Mills Act application the same items that are listed in the recent special assessment category?
     Several of the items in the 10-year Mills Act contract are the same items the Board used to determine the recent special assessment, including completion of the interior re-piping and sewer projects, and replacement of the roofs. Many other projects on the 10-year Mills Act project list include those things we do on a routine basis as general maintenance—painting buildings, landscaping and security contracts, tree pruning, etc.

·         How many owners qualify?
     All homeowners qualify for the Mills Act, as the city signed a Mills Act contract with the HOA, not with individual homeowners. In preliminary research, done by a group of VG homeowners for the city of Los Angeles, we determined that about 70-75% of VG homeowners will see tax savings, ranging from tens of dollars to several thousand dollars per year. Owners who bought their units in the last 10 years or so, when property rates were higher than decades previous, will probably see the most benefit.

·         Will there be reports to the community concerning the Mills Act and its success or failure?
     As the HOA gets reports from the city of Los Angeles, any information will be communicated back to the community.

You can read more about the Mills Act program on the Office of Historic Resources website here:

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