SurveyLA Training Preps Group 4 Survey Teams

By David J. Barboza

Discussion at the Group 4 training

Way back in 2010 this blog covered the training sessions for first group of SurveyLA field surveys (see the story here). During two days this April, the training continued for SurveyLA’s “Group 4” areas, where survey work has recently started. A rough way of understanding where Group 4 is would be the southern San Fernando Valley. Specifically it’s the following Community Plan Areas:  North Hollywood – Valley Village, Sherman Oaks-Studio City-Toluca Lake-Cahuenga Pass, Encino-Tarzana, and Canoga Park-Winnetka-Woodland Hills-West Hills (i.e. the areas we covered on our bus tour). The training was led by the Janet Hansen, Deputy Manager of the Office of Historic Resources, and was attended by survey teams from Historic Resources Group, Architectural Resources Group and students from Woodbury College and USC.

Quite a bit was covered in the sessions and my aim here isn’t to reiterate it all, but certain points caught my attention. One is that SurveyLA uses what is known as the multiple property documentation approach, which was developed by the National Park Service. It’s a method of evaluating properties “by comparing them with resources that share similar physical characteristics and historical associations” (NPS Website). How are those comparisons made? With our Historic Context Statement (HCS). The HCS is an evolving document based on several broad categories and time periods of architectural and historical significance (contexts), sub-categories  for each context (themes), and property types for each theme. To give an example, if a survey team saw an interesting bungalow court from the early 20th century, they might document it under the “residential development and suburbanization, 1880-1980” context, the “multi-family residential development” theme and the “bungalow court, 1910-1939” property type. It’s also possible to list a place under more than one context-theme-property type.

This FiGSS screenshot gives a sense of the GIS survey teams use in the field

Another key feature of the training was actually using the Field Guide Survey System (FiGSS, pronounced “figs”). That’s the geographic information system (GIS, sorry for all the acronyms!) the survey teams use in the field on their tablet computers. FiGSS is based on Esri’s ArcGIS 9.3.1 software, with extensive customization developed in-house by the City of LA Planning Department Systems Division. The modifications allow surveyors to document individual properties, potential districts and non-parcel resources according to the appropriate context(s), theme(s) and property type(s), as well as more specific details such as architectural style. Photos (which, we learned, should not be taken on trash day) are also required for each entry and input through the system. This GIS has data layers such as aerial imagery, parcel lines, designated historic resources (we’re not re-surveying those) and, excitingly, publicly-generated information on potentially historic places. That’s why we’re so eager to have you suggest places over at and our upcoming community workshops: survey teams use your information in the field to enrich their analysis of what’s out there.

Another bit of wonky but useful information that came to light in the training was how survey teams use historic resource status codes to summarize where a place is on the preservation spectrum. SurveyLA is using the California Historical Resource Status Codes, a few of which have been customized specifically for the project. As you can see at the linked document above, there are seven code categories, with sub-codes under each. SurveyLA is focusing on the following codes:

  • 3 – Appears eligible for National Register (NR) or California Register (CR) through survey evaluation
  • 5 – Properties recognized as historically significant by local government
  • 6 – Not eligible for listing or designation as specified
  • 7 – Not evaluated for NR or CR or needs re-evaluation
  • QQQ – More research needed

As SurveyLA proceeds through the south San Fernando Valley the training, technology, surveyor expertise and public input are coming together in the field to give us an exciting trove of information ripe for use in future land planning, education, tourism and preservation efforts.


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