Please note the time change of San Rafael Regular City Council Meetings to commence at 6:00 p.m. 

Downtown Historic Preservation Information

For questions regarding Downtown Historic Preservation Contact Renee Nickenig

This page provides comprehensive information on historic resources  data collected through the Downtown Precise Plan program.  It includes the following components:

  • Access to the Summary Report
  • Webinar Information (Feb 23, 24, 25)
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • DPR Forms

May 2021 Revised Summary Report

The Historic Resources Report published in December 2020 (see below) was revised in May 2021 to reflect comments received during the environmental review process and supplemental analysis of historic resources.  Two versions of the revised Plan are available and a separate link has been provided for maps:

  • For a "clean" copy, click here
  • For a tracked change copy, click here (the base document for the changes is the December 2020 draft)
  • To review the maps, click here

December 2020 Draft Summary Report

The Downtown Precise Plan included a comprehensive update of historic resources in the Downtown area. A Summary Report was prepared to document the findings.   The report was revised in May 2021 based on public comment and subsequent analysis during the environmental review process.


Did you miss our webinars?  If so, you can view the presentation at the link below:


Please be sure to turn on your audio.  After the presentation opens, select "Slide Show" and "From Beginning" using the menu bar at the top of the page.  The slides will advance automatically as the narrative for each slide ends.

The Community Development Department hosted three webinars for residents, businesses, property owners, on February 23, 24, and 25.   Each webinar began with an 18-minute presentation followed by time for questions, answers, and discussion among attendees.

Call 415-485-3423 if you have questions about the webinar or what will be covered.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

  1. Why did the City prepare a “Downtown Precise Plan”?

 Existing plans and zoning rules for Downtown were written almost 30 years ago.  In 2018, San Rafael received a grant from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to prepare a new Downtown Plan.  This not only allowed the City to update its vision for Downtown, it also provided a way to tie together recent studies related to the SMART Station, Downtown parking, pedestrian and bicycle safety along Third Street, sea level rise, building design, and other topics.  The Downtown Plan is part of the San Rafael General Plan, the city’s long-range vision for its future.

  1. What does the Downtown Precise Plan cover?

The Downtown Precise Plan covers an area that extends from the intersection of 2nd and 4th Street on the west to the Montecito Plaza Shopping Center on the east.  It extends from Mission Avenue on the north to First Street, Albert Park, and the San Rafael Canal on the south.  The Plan includes maps, illustrations, and policies intended to guide Downtown’s growth over the next 20 years.  It presents a vision for Downtown, including new housing, revitalized businesses and civic uses, a thriving arts and cultural scene, new public spaces and amenities, and improvements for bicycles, pedestrians, and vehicles.  The Downtown Plan identifies opportunities for more than 2,000 new housing units and over 700,000 square feet of new non-residential space.  It covers land use, transportation, economic development, housing, infrastructure, and historic preservation issues.  It also includes new zoning regulations for Downtown.

  1. Why preserve historic resources?

 Historic resources are one of Downtown San Rafael’s greatest assets.  Downtown’s older buildings and pedestrian scale are what sets the area apart from other business districts in Marin County.  They create an ambiance that draw people to shop, dine, stroll, socialize, and visit.  Downtown’s historic buildings give it a strong sense of place and connect us to our past.  Preserving these resources also supports local sustainability goals, helps attract unique businesses and arts establishments, and give our city its heart and soul.  Preservation makes good economic sense.  It is also the law— the California Environmental Quality Act requires that a community’s cultural resources be recognized and protected, and that steps be taken to avoid the loss of these resources.

  1. What does the Downtown Plan say about historic resources?

Historic Resources are addressed in Chapter 5 of the Plan.  This Chapter includes recommendations for strengthening the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance, which has been in effect for over 40 years.  It calls for aligning the City’s historic preservation standards with State and federal standards.  Although the Plan does not propose a new City Historic Preservation Commission, it does propose a more formal process for evaluating applications to modify historic structures. The Downtown Plan includes flow charts showing the different levels of review that would be required based on how a building has been rated.  Many buildings have been deemed non-significant, but about 20 percent of Downtown’s buildings would be subject to new rules.

  1. Why did the City decide to update its historic resources inventory as part of the Downtown Plan?

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that impacts to historic resources be considered as part of the development process.  As a result, most Downtown development is subject to architectural survey requirements, creating an added expense for property owners.  By creating a current and comprehensive inventory, this process can be streamlined.

  1. How do I know if my building is historic?

 About 100 Downtown properties have been identified as eligible historic resources.  They are listed by Assessor Parcel number at this link.  This is a Draft list and is subject to change.  The list includes 14 buildings that are already designated as historic landmarks, about 50 buildings that were designated as eligible landmarks in a survey done over 40 years ago, and about 35 buildings that were not previously identified.

     7. When was the last time the City did this?

In 1976 and 1977, the City sponsored a comprehensive field survey of historic resources throughout San Rafael, including Downtown. The survey was adopted in January 1978, and few updates were made in 1986, but for the most part, that survey has been the definitive source of information about Downtown’s historic buildings for more than four decades. There were 305 properties identified across the city, including 88 in the Downtown area. Each building was rated as being Exceptional, Excellent, or Good based on its condition and architectural value.

Several of the structures that were rated “Exceptional” were subsequently designated as local landmarks by the City Council. Two small clusters of historic buildings in the Downtown area —one at the corner of 3rd and Irwin (The French Quarter) and another at the corner of 5th and F (Victorian Village)—were officially designated as local historic districts.  To view the properties listed on the last historic survey, click here.

  1. How was the most recent historic survey prepared?

The 2019-2020 historic resources inventory and survey update was led by Garavaglia Architecture, Inc., an architectural firm in San Francisco specializing in historic preservation. Trained volunteers from San Rafael Heritage worked with Garavaglia staff to survey over 500 properties.  The focus of the survey was on 160 properties that contain buildings over 50 years old with some level of historic integrity.  A “Fact Sheet” was created for each property, with each property given a rating based on whether it was historic, needed further study, or likely not eligible.  Following further study, a number of properties were eliminated from the list.

  1. Was every property in Downtown included?

No.  Due to limited resources, some blocks of Downtown where no changes are envisioned were excluded from the survey.  For instance, Latham Street in the West End Village is a residential street.  No rezoning is proposed there, so the area was excluded from the survey.  This does not mean the area has no historic resources.

  1. What criteria were used to determine if a building is historic?

Buildings were evaluated using criteria developed by State and federal preservation agencies.  These are the same criteria used for evaluating applications to the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.  Eligible properties must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Properties that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
  2. Properties that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
  3. Properties that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  4. Properties that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

 The survey focused on Criterion (3) above and was based primarily on architectural integrity.  It should be noted that identifying a building as “historic” does mean it is a Landmark.  Landmarking is a separate process that requires action by the City Council. 

  1. What did the survey find?

  • Of the 88 buildings identified in the 1977 survey, 64 remain eligible as historic resources. This includes the 14 that already have a Landmark status and another 50 that were in good or excellent condition in 1977.
  • Thirty-six properties have been identified as newly eligible historic resources. Twenty of these properties are located along 4th Street, including eight in the West End Village.
  • Twenty-four of the buildings that were inventoried in 1977 no longer meet the criteria for historic resources. Seven of these buildings have been demolished or destroyed, and 17 were rated as D or E in the survey, meaning they are no longer eligible as historic resources due to lack of historical integrity.
  1. What about historic districts?

 The survey identified two areas in Downtown as potentially eligible historic districts.  These are collections of adjacent properties that represent a common development pattern or share a common historical theme.  Not every property in a historic district is necessarily historic.  Districts may include buildings that are individually historic by themselves (known as “individual resources”), buildings that are not individually historic but contribute to the character of the identified district (known as “contributing resources”) and buildings that are not historic at all (“non-contributors”).  Merely identifying an area as an “eligible” historic district does not mean that a district has been created or that the status of properties inside the boundaries has changed.  Formally creating a district would require City Council action.

The two eligible districts include a “West” district that extends along B Street from roughly 2nd to 4th Street and then west along 4th to E Street; and an “East” district that extends along 4th Street from Lootens to Lincoln.

  1. What does it mean if my property is on the list?

Properties that are designated as eligible historic resources may be subject to certain requirements relating to demolition, or the addition of new upper floors or rooms that expand the footprint of the building.  These are specified in the Precise Plan.  For example, if your building is located on 4th Street, you will likely be limited to two additional stories above the existing roofline, and those stories may need to be stepped back from the front face of the building in order to preserve its appearance from the street.  In most cases, the proposed regulations allow for variations from the standards through consultation with an architectural historian and public hearings before the Planning Commission.  The standards do not generally apply to interior spaces.

Properties that are designated as eligible resources are also subject to certain requirements relating to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  These are not new requirements and would likely be determined necessary for your property under rules that apply today, as the City would require an architectural evaluation prior to issuing certain types of permits.  All buildings over 50 years old are subject to CEQA and require some level of environmental review.

  1. What happens to my property taxes?

Nothing.  Historic eligibility does not impact property taxes unless you have an active Mills Contract with the City.  The Mills Act is used by some cities to lower property taxes for qualified historic properties.  San Rafael does not currently have a Mills Act program.

  1. What if my property is not on the list?

You may not be required to conduct a detailed historic architectural survey in the event you wish to modify, demolish, or add to your building.  However, you will still need to check with staff before developing plans.  There may still be applicable historic preservation requirements if you are located adjacent to a historic building, or if there are archaeological resources on your property.

  1. How can I appeal the determination?

 If you think a building has been placed on the list in error or does not meet the criteria for eligibility, we encourage you to submit a written statement to the Planning Department asking that the determination be reviewed.  Emails may be sent to  Emails received before March 9, 2021 are encouraged and will be considered as formal comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Downtown Precise Plan.  Staff will also reply to emails received after March 9, 2021, but the comments will not be treated as comments on the DEIR.  You may also submit a comment if you think a building has been left off the list erroneously.  Please indicate in your correspondence if you are the building owner, a tenant, or a third party.               

  1. What are the potential benefits of being designated a historic property?

 The state and federal governments have developed a number of incentives to encourage the restoration of historic buildings.  Some of these incentives are not yet available in San Rafael but could be considered in the future. They include:

  • The Mills Act, which provides for an up to 50% reduction in property taxes in exchange for rehabilitating and maintaining a historic building
  • A 20% rehabilitation tax credit, in the event a property is on the National Register or is listed as a contributor to a National Register Historic District.
  • Application of the California Historic Building Code, which provides alternate regulations for older buildings in order to facilitate their repair or accommodate a change of occupancy.

DPR Forms

In addition, DPR 523 forms have been prepared for two areas that were found to be eligible for recognition as historic districts, along with 36 properties found to be eligible for recognition as individual historic resources or as contributing resources within the two districts.  DPR Forms are informational tools used to record and evaluate historic resources.  They are often the first step in nominating properties as California Historical Landmarks, California Points of Historical Interest, or California Registered Historic Resources.  Please note that completion of a DPR Form alone does not change the historic status of the property.

Draft DPR forms are provided below.  In the 1970s, the City of San Rafael prepared DPR forms for about 50 additional properties in the Downtown area.   Please contact the San Rafael Community Development Department for information on these forms.  They may be updated in the future as resources allow.

DRAFT DPR Forms for Eligible Districts (12/2020)

DRAFT DPR Forms for Individual Properties (12/2020)


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