Ventura Realty and Investment Company filed on July 10 a writ of mandate at the Superior Court of Ventura County requesting that the court compel the city of Ventura to issue a demolition permit specifically to tear down the crumbling façade of 51 Oak St., a decision originally made by Ventura’s Local Housing Appeals Board on March 22. The appeals board directed Ventura Realty to take pictures and create a 3-D rendering of the façade that would be used to restore and replicate the façade, should the building be deemed a historical resource.  Ventura Realty complied.

Demo permit for facade.

That appeals board decision to grant the issuance of the demo permit was then blocked via another appeal in April by Yolanda Bundy, the city’s chief building official, whereby Bundy requested that the Ventura City Council reconsider the appeals board decision at the regular July 24 meeting. The writ of mandate filed by attorney James Devine on behalf of Ventura Realty states that the City Council “lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider such an appeal.” City officials contend otherwise.

“The local appeals board can’t compel a building official to issue a demo permit,” city of Ventura Community Development Director Jeff Lambert said, affirming that Bundy had taken the proper step to bring it to the City Council.

Ventura Realty had gone to the appeals board for the demo permit of the façade after a portion of façade’s overhang came down in November after heavy rains. The city had sent three notices to Ventura Realty to address the situation, including to provide an alternative fenced walkway (which is there now) and to build scaffolding that would support falling debris to insure public safety. Ventura Realty hired Challman Engineering Inc. to review the scaffolding request; and William Challman, a registered professional engineer, in late January, stated in a response, which was then given to the city:

“We are not able to determine through standard investigation what level of support is needed to insure public safety since we [know] no approved method to explore how the structure is constructed and supported or even damages.”

“I don’t understand what the problem is,” said Sid White, partner at Ventura Realty and former economic development director for the city of Ventura, who noted that the crumbling stucco was supported on rusted steel beams, presenting on ongoing safety issue. He did say that if the city wanted to take on the liability if the scaffolding should fail and hurt someone due to falling debris, he would consider building it. He has not yet asked the city if this would be a consideration.

That property and another to 71 Oak St. are currently being reviewed by the Historic Preservation Committee, since they are older than 40 years, which is the basic qualifying attribute to automatically trigger the review process.

“[51 Oak St. property] is a unique part of Downtown Ventura’s architecture designed by a master architect, Harold Burket,”  said Stephen Schafer,  president of the San Buenaventura Conservancy, who wrote a letter to the city in 2015 that the building should get a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act before considering the application to demolish the buildings in question on Oak Street. “Because they don’t want to maintain it, it is not a good reason not to. I have experience seeing buildings in much worse condition being restored.”

Lambert said that demolishing the façade may be a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, given that the building is under historic review. White contends that even if the building has to be preserved, the façade would have to be rebuilt.

Ventura Realty had originally filed, in 2015, an application to raze the two buildings stretching from 51 to 71 Oak St. to build a four- to five-story residential building of single-room occupancy units for downtown workers. Ventura Realty, however, chose not to do a proper historic review, citing that the buildings contained asbestos and lead and were not safe. The city decided that was not a valid reason to raze them and that a full historic review was needed. Ventura Realty had originally intended to appeal that historic review requirement but instead conceded that it would do so. During that process, part of the façade fell and the proper way to handle the crumbling façade has been a bone of contention between the city and Ventura Realty ever since. In the mix of this, the city did not properly notify Ventura Realty of a particular hearing, which Lambert acknowledged. But the city and Ventura Realty have had other struggles in the past, with Ventura Realty filing three different lawsuits on other issues, losing two and settling one, according to White.

There also may be a problem that the current alternative measure, the fenced walkway from the sidewalk to the street, may be costing the city money by blocking parking spaces. 

White says he’s never seen anything like it, appealing the appeals board decision. The writ of mandate was given to the city 10 days prior to be filed with the courts, in which it asks that the demo permit review be pulled from the City Council agenda and instead the permit be issued. White says the city has not responded to the request.