Nearly six years after firefighters burned down part of the defunct City Center Motel during a training exercise, they may soon get a chance to set fire to what's left.
The Crescent City Council this week unanimously declared the property at 708 J St. a public nuisance and gave the owners, Bhupendra and Harshaprabha Joshi, 60 days to clean it up. The Council also authorized city staff members to levy civil penalties of $250 per day if the property owners fail to abate the nuisance by the 60-day deadline.
Local civil engineer and former city manager Mike Young said he is part of a limited partnership that holds the mortgage on the property and is trying to foreclose on it. He said his partnership, City Center Redevelopment Limited Partnership, will pay to remove the asbestos and will work with the Crescent City Fire Department to hold a fire training exercise using the motel.
"I hope by the end of February it won't be there," Young said, referring to the motel. "I hope that on the basis of being a property owner who lives across the street and also being a partner that has an interest in the property we're in the process of foreclosing on."
Young said the partnership includes himself, architect Jeff Mitchell, contractor Don Hartley and attorney Darren McElfresh.
The city's nuisance abatement history with the City Center Motel stretches back to 2008, said Community Development Director Eric Taylor. At that time, the motel stopped operating and was put into receivership. The owners were allowed to live on the property, using the front office and check-in space, the manager's unit, laundry facility and two additional rooms, Taylor said. The rest of the structure was burned during a fire training exercise.
Since then, the Joshis have moved out of the area and what's left of the motel has been vacant for several years, Taylor said. In May 2013 the Crescent City Police Department complained about people entering the property illegally. Staff contacted someone who was responsible for the property, who boarded up the windows, Taylor said.
In August 2013, a second complaint from the Police Department prompted Taylor and Crescent City building inspector Chuck Williams to conduct an external inspection of the property. Taylor showed the Council photos of structural damage including rotted eaves and structural supports, broken windows, exposed wiring and evidence of campfires and people using the place as a dumping ground.
"The utilities were still connected to this property back in August," Taylor said, adding that there was enough evidence on the motel exterior to declare the property a nuisance. "The exposed wiring was open to anybody who happened to come along."
The utilities were turned off following the inspection, Taylor said.
The building's conditions not only violated the Crescent City Municipal Code, but California's Building Standard Code and Health and Safety Code, Taylor said. If the city took charge of abating the nuisance, the staff estimates that it would cost about $8,530.
The city sent the Joshis a 30-day notice to abate the nuisance after the inspection, but no action has been taken, Taylor said.
Young said in 2008 he and his three partners purchased the mortgage on the property from the previous holder, a financial institution based in Southern California. The Joshis still own the property, he said, but their mortgage is in default. The partnership recently obtained a court order to put the property up for auction, Young said.
Young said the partnership purchased the mortgage with the intention of eventually taking over ownership and developing the property.
"We were 99.9 percent certain nothing was ever going to be done to take care of the health and safety violations there," he said. "We're going to put in a bid for the amount of the note and most likely nobody else will bid on it. The title will then be transferred to us and then we will own the property."
Even though she acknowledged that the property needs to be cleaned up, Councilwoman Kelly Schellong expressed misgivings over Young's partnership becoming involved when he doesn't own the property.
City Attorney Bob Black compared it to a bank stepping in as a mortgage-holder to protect its interests. He said the Council's action of declaring the motel a public nuisance is adverse to the limited partnership's interests.
"It will cost them more for us to do it," Black said, referring to the city doing the cleanup itself. "It's only reasonable for them to go on and abate the property as lien-holders."
The property owners have 30 days to appeal the Council decision in Superior Court, according to the city's staff report.
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