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Historical and Architectural Rating Systems

Learn about how Oakland determines the relative importance of properties.


What is the rating system?

The Rating System, adopted in the Historic Preservation Element, is shorthand for the relative importance of properties. The system uses letters A to E to rate individual properties and numbers 1 to 3 for district status. Individual properties can have dual ("existing" and "contingency") ratings if they have been remodeled, and if they are in districts they can be contributors, noncontributors, or potential contributors. In general, A and B ratings indicate landmark-quality buildings. The rating system is summarized, with some examples, below.

A: Highest Importance: Outstanding architectural example or extreme historical importance (about 150 properties total). Examples: City Hall, Camron-Stanford House, 16th Street Station, Floral Depot.

B: Major Importance: Especially fine architectural example, major historical importance (about 600 total). Examples: Plaza Building, California Cotton Mills, Fruitvale Hotel, Herbert Hoover House.

C: Secondary Importance: Superior or visually important example, or very early (pre-1906). Cs "warrant limited recognition (about 10,000 total).

D: Minor Importance: Representative example. About 10,000 Ds are PDHPs, either because they have a higher contingency rating ("Dc") or because they are in districts ("D2+").

E: Of no particular interest, * or F: Less than 45 years old or modernized. Some Es, Fs, and *s are also PDHPS because they have higher contingency ratings or are in districts.

Contingency Ratings (lower-case letter, as in "Dc" or "Fb"): potential rating under some condition, such as "if restored" or "when older" or "with more information."

District Status (numbers):
"1": In an Area of Primary Importance (API) or National Register quality district. Examples: Old Oakland, Downtown, Oakland Point (Prescott)

"2": In an Area of Secondary Importance (ASI) or district of local interest. Examples: 23rd Avenue Commercial, Clawson Neighborhood, Bella Vista, Jingletown, Carrington Airplane Bungalows

"3": Not in a historic district.

For properties in districts, + indicates contributors, - noncontributors, * potential contributors.

Potential Designated Historic Properties (PDHPs)

The City considers any property that has at least a contingency rating of C ("secondary importance") or contributes or potentially contributes to a primary or secondary district to "warrant consideration for possible preservation." If they are not already designated, all properties meeting these minimum significance thresholds are called Potential Designated Historic Properties (PDHPs). The California Historical Building Code can be utilized for these PDHPs.

PDHPs are a large group: a fifth of the buildings in Oakland. They are meant to be "numerous enough to significantly influence the city's character." Properties with contingency ratings are classified as PDHPs to highlight their value as restoration opportunities. District contributors and potential contributors are classified as PDHPs to promote the preservation of Oakland's distinctive districts and neighborhoods.

"PDHP" is not a designation. It is a category based on Survey ratings, and the ratings simply report what the Survey has found throughout Oakland. The ratings help decide which properties may warrant some sort of preservation effort by the City. A PDHP rated B, "major importance," even if it is not a designated landmark, will probably be more difficult to alter or demolish, and will receive higher priority for assistance, than one rated D, "minor importance."

Register of Historic Resources

In mid-1998, following changes in State law, the Preservation Element was amended to create a category called the Local Register of Historic Resources. This includes Designated Historic Properties (City landmarks and districts, as well as properties designated under State and Federal programs) plus the most important PDHPs: those that have existing ratings of A or B or are in Areas of Primary Importance. Under certain circumstances, demolition or incompatible alteration of these properties cannot be carried out unless an Environmental Impact Report demonstrates that there are no feasible preservation alternatives and identifies mitigations to make up for loss of a historic resource.

Designated and Potentially Designated Historical Properties

For properties with official City designations - landmarks, preservation districts, Heritage Properties - the Element lays out a series of interrelated incentives and regulations. (Not all of these are in effect yet.) The most incentives and the strongest regulations are reserved for the most important properties.

Incentives for DHPs include:

  • Streamlined permit procedures and fee waivers
  • Tax relief by Mills Act contracts and easements
  • Wider range of permitted uses
  • Use of California Historical Building Code
  • Priority for financial assistance

Regulations on DHPs include:

  • Design Review of exterior changes by the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board and its staff
  • Demolition, removal, and alteration of Class 1 and 2 Landmarks and district contributors are permitted only as provided in the Element
  • Demolition, removal, and major alteration of Class 3 Landmarks and Heritage Properties can be postponed for 60 to 240 days

Policies to protect PDHPs are set out in the Element chapter on "Historic Preservation and Ongoing City Activities" and enacted in the Zoning Regulations. Those most likely to affect the owner of a PDHP are:

  • Demolition or significant changes to the exterior of a PDHP are subject to review and postponement.
    • Staff and applicant will discuss the PDHP's historic features or "character defining elements," ways to modify the project to protect those features, and incentives for DHP status.
    • The Landmarks Board may consider Heritage Property designation, which could delay demolition.
    • The highest-rated PDHPs (see "Local Register of Historic Resources") will be subject to design review and may require environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act/CEQA (Policy 3.8). Demolition or major alteration may necessitate an EIR.
    • Design review will require the project to be of equal or better design quality and compatible with neighborhood character (Policy 3.5).
    • PDHPs that are to be demolished must be offered free for moving.

In addition, the Element states that:

  • PDHPs have preference for City assistance (Policy 3.6)
  • Deteriorated and abandoned PDHPs should be rehabilitated, not demolished (Policy 3.12)
  • A PDHP being replaced by a new project should be moved, not demolished (Policy 3.7)
  • The City may consider acquiring endangered PDHPs (Policy 3.4, 3.12)
  • Certain PDHPs receiving City assistance must be nominated for DHP status (Policy 3.3).

To qualify for incentives, PDHPs must become DHPs (Designated Historic Properties). Though many PDHPs would not have qualified for Landmark or Preservation District status in the past, the new categories Heritage Property and Class 2 Preservation District will make designation available to a much wider group of properties.

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