By Kelley Atherton
This time, firefighters will actually be setting a building on fire.
The Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department will conduct a controlled burn of part of the City Center Motel at 708 J St. tonight at 5 p.m.
The motel was not in compliance with city codes and through a court order ended up in the hands of what is known as a receiver, who recommended demolishing the blighted structure.
Part of the motel will be left for the owners, Bhupendra and Harshaprabha Joshi, to reside in with their family.
The fire could last for approximately five hours, but firefighters will only be practicing for the first two hours.
Fire Chief Steve Wakefield said that the Fire Department is using this opportunity for firefighters to practice their skills.
andquot;Firefighters will start a fire in the rooms and then practice putting it out,andquot; Wakefield said.
Every fire department in the county was invited to participate and Wakefield expects about 50 volunteer firefighters will be on hand. Recent damp weather leaves andquot;pretty slim oddsandquot; that the fire will spread, Wakefield said. However, they'll have their hoses ready.
andquot;We'll throw a tremendous amount of water on it if needed,andquot; he said.
Wakefield said they'll let about 95 percent of it burn and then Hemmingsen Construction will clear the charred debris away.
andquot;Dangerousandquot; to live there
The reason for the burn, said City Attorney Bob Black, was that the motel did not meet health and safety codes. City staff members had repeatedly asked the Joshis to get the motel up to code, beginning in 2006, Black said.
andquot;It was not a transient motel,andquot; Black said, andquot;but was basically used as long-term rentals.andquot;
The City Council took the matter to court and hired the law firm Jones and Mayer, out of Fullerton. In February, Del Norte Superior Court Judge Robert Weir put the property into a receivership and in the hands of Mark Adams, an attorney and president/founder of Housing Renaissance Fund in Los Angeles.
Robert Cochran, the Joshis' attorney, said that they were not given enough time to get the buildings into compliance. He said city staff members told the Joshis they would work with them to get the motel up to code and help find them financing to pay for it. This never happened, he said, and now the Joshis are left without a source of income.
andquot;The city essentially destroyed their livelihood,andquot; Cochran said. andquot;They weren't sympathetic when going about it.andquot;
After evaluating the property, Adams removed a resident that was living there and deemed it andquot;literally dangerousandquot; to live there.
Adams said when he visited the City Center Motel in February, the walls and ceiling were deteriorating, water wasn't running in some units, there was evidence of asbestos and unsafe electrical wiring, and one room in particular did not have a safe exit.
Adams suggested tearing it down, however, the option to burn it was much less expensive.
Cheaper to start over
Black said that demolition is a last resort to cleaning up blighted properties.
andquot;It's an extremely powerful tool to be used sparingly,andquot; he said. andquot;The whole object is to work with owners and get everything done voluntarily. The size of the task was overwhelming for the owners.andquot;
Adams has been the receiver for numerous properties, including a prior case in Crescent City. It was more cost-effective for the Joshis to start from scratch, he said.
andquot;I never want to demolish,andquot; Adams said. andquot;In my heart and soul, I am a rehabilitation person. It's a last resort to recommend doing that.andquot;
After speaking with the Joshis and Cochran, Adams decided to let the family continue to live there because andquot;they didn't know where they would live.andquot; The important thing was that they would stop renting out rooms, he added.
Adams' fees and cost to demolish the motel amount to just over $100,000. The Joshis will have to pay those costs. Considering the value of the property, Adams said that the Joshis should be able to get a loan to pay off the receivership.
andquot;The whole idea is that the property is paying to clean itself up,andquot; he said. andquot;The equity of the property pays for its cost of repairs.andquot;
Cochran said the Joshis have 60 days to pay for the costs to destroy their motel. The family, is not of andquot;great means,andquot; he said, suggesting the city should provide some grant or loan money to the Joshis.
andquot;I hope the city comes through and helps rebuild their lives,andquot; Cochran said. andquot;It's destroyed right now,andquot;
The Joshis are thinking of building a small apartment complex on the property, which would be advantageous to the city, he said, as opposed to a vacant lot.
This is not a warning message to property owners to keep their properties up to snuff, Black said, however, andquot;it does demonstrate what can happen when properties go too far downhill.andquot;