The city requests a demonstration of the Blighted California Theater

Graffiti dotted the California Theatre, seen here from C Street, which was partially surrounded by fences that did not prevent people from entering the building on August 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

Mayor Todd Gloria and his team demand that the owner of the devastated California Theater demolish the downtown hall that has been closed for more than three decades.

The city’s director of development services sent a letter to developer Caydon Property Group this week, which recently abandoned its city-approved redevelopment plan for the site, denouncing the company’s “alarming lack of action” in the face of impending security problems. The director also pointed to his failure to submit a future demolition plan for the theater by the city’s Friday deadline amid growing frustration with the state of the building. The letter also stated that the developer had not adjusted the fencing around the theater to establish a fall protection zone, engaged security, or implemented required fire safety monitoring.

Gloria said Wednesday night that the city is now referring the matter to City Attorney Mara Elliott’s Nuisance Abatement Unit for noncompliance.

“The private owner’s lack of action in the face of code violations and redress demands is unacceptable – and frankly, we have lost patience with the impacts on nearby residents and businesses due to their negligence,” said Gloria. in a press release. “The city is rapidly escalating this matter and will secure the building and address the security risks at the owner’s expense.”

People staying outside the California Theater lean against a fence erected on C Street directly across from an open entrance to the building on August 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

On Wednesday afternoon, Voice of San Diego found the eight-story building at Fourth Avenue and C Street are streaked with graffiti and surrounded by homeless residents and a chain-link fence with multiple openings near the unobstructed entrances on the theater’s ground floor. A rope attached to an emergency exit snaked around the side of the building and led to open doors onto a terrace where several people walked inside.

Jessica Cox, who runs The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole across the street, called police on Wednesday after spotting people inside the building as she spoke to a Voice reporter about “the decay , and the asbestos, human waste, all the stuff, the drugs, the rats, the pigeons” that gathered there.

“It’s a danger,” Cox said. “There’s not much more I can say about it. The whole thing needs to be blown up. There is no backup. There is nothing to do. »

Mia, who told Voice she sometimes spends nights on C Street, agreed. She described the building as “unstable” and said she had seen rats coming out of it. She also said that some people sleeping inside the building were breaking windows and throwing rocks at people sleeping outside.

“They need to find a big investor or just knock it off,” Mia said.

Signs posted outside the California Theater warn that the building is unsafe to occupy. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

Gloria and her team are now demanding that the owner – or future owner – make plans to demolish the building.

We don’t know who will make this happen.

The California Theater is now up for sale and McGrathNicol, an Australia-based receiver who took possession of the property following the Liquidation of Melbourne-based Caydonanswered a series of questions from Voice with a statement pledging to improve the situation.

“Caydon San Diego Property LLC recently underwent a change in control,” McGrathNicol wrote in a statement. “Its new members intend to work constructively with all stakeholders, including the City of San Diego, to implement a plan to improve the safety, security and general amenity of the property at short term.”

The company did not say whether it would demolish and on Thursday morning Gloria’s office said the developer and its receiver – who was not copied on the city’s demand letter – had not yet responded.

But Gloria spokeswoman Rachel Laing said real estate brokerage firm Jones Lang LaSalle, which promoted the property to developers earlier this year, told the city that a potential buyer of the California Theater was doing its due diligence and “knows the theater needs to be torn down.”

There has already been talk of demolishing the California Theater.

The Fourth Avenue and C Street Theater opened in April 1927, initially hosting vaudeville and silent films. It then welcomed concert goers.

In 1990, it was planned to demolish the building to make way for an office tower. That never happened and there were a series of ownership changes and discussions about what to do about the long-closed structure just steps from City Hall ever since.

In 2017, the preservation group Save Our Heritage Organization sued to stop 40-story housing project there and after a Superior Court victory, the group reached a settlement with the developer.

At the end of 2019, developer Caydon purchased the property and took over the regulations requiring a possible builder to preserve and reconstruct parts of the California Theater’s current facade and recreate its Caliente mural.

In the spring of 2021, Caydon permits obtained from the city to proceed with a 41-story boutique hotel and a condo complex with retail on the ground floor.

But Caydon never made any further representations to the city to move forward and last month, the Union-Tribune announced the news that the California Theater was up for sale again.

“JLL, as exclusive advisor, is pleased to present the opportunity to acquire a prime development site in the heart of downtown San Diego,” read an April promotional email sent to developers and obtained by UT. “The Theater House is a fully licensed trophy development site for a 41-story mixed-use development, but may be reallocated to various uses within current zoning.”

The email said a new owner could “rehabilitate the single site for multiple accommodations, hotel and/or office” or take over the permits Caydon obtained in 2021 which can be used for a further two years.

Complaints and concerns about the California Theater have been mounting ever since Caydon began advertising the property for sale.

A small opening along a chain link fence outside the California Theater on August 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

In late June, a structural engineer from the city’s Department of Developmental Services assessed the building’s structural condition and wrote in a later report that even police officers will not set foot in the theater.

“Two SDPD officers joined us at the site, but as the interior areas of the building have been found in previous structural condition reports to be structurally unsafe and also contain hazardous materials at high toxic scale levels, they will not enter buildings,” senior structural engineer Miguel Sinclair wrote in a July 27 memo. “A warning has been issued that persons entering these buildings will do so at their own risk.”

Sinclair described finding “numerous signs of broken door/window openings” and exposed roof steel trusses reinforcing the auditorium which showed “serious levels of corrosion deterioration” which led him to wonder if the framing system could continue to provide adequate support.

Sinclair also called for immediate action to “protect the public right-of-way from the imminent risk of falling from dislodging ornaments” or other building elements.

Director of Development Services Elyse Lowe wrote in her letter this week that she informed Caydon’s Houston-based chief operating officer during a July 27 virtual meeting that the California Theater was “in bad shape.” condition, unsafe and dangerous to the public” that required immediate action.

Five days after the July 27 meeting, Chief Operating Officer Emma Alexander submitted an agency letter requested by the city to authorize San Diego police to ask trespassers to leave and enforce violations of the law. on his property.

But Lowe documented in a Tuesday letter that Alexander said at the meeting that Caydon “did not intend to further develop or repair the property due to cost and that it was currently listed for sale.” although she planned to seek funds to implement fire safety. recommendation.

Lowe noted that the city assesses fines daily until fire watches are in place and for code enforcement inspections twice a week. She also wrote that the city would “register any notices issued against the property” at the county assessor’s office.

Whatever happens, SOHO’s Bruce Coons said his preservationist group will be watching.

Coons thinks a demolition of the California Theater could violate a court order and the band’s rules and said SOHO is eager to work with whoever ends up taking the property.

In recent history, Coons said members of his group complained to the city about the state of the building and were disappointed to see what became of it.

“It’s terrible,” Coons said. “We all want to see something happen there.”

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