No response from building owners after city files suits

The owner of the Creamery building, located at 7491 Railroad St. in downtown Gilroy, is one of two unreinforced masonry building owners who face legal action from the city for allegedly ignoring dangerous conditions and not bringing the structures up to c

GILROY—Despite filing lawsuits against two downtown property owners more than three weeks ago in a “last resort” effort to bring their buildings up to earthquake safety codes, neither owner has responded, city officials said Wednesday.
The city’s contracted legal firm, San Jose-based Berliner Cohen, filed criminal complaints against Lynette Hill, owner of the historic Creamery at 7491 Railroad St., and Cynthia Boxall, owner of the Water Store at 7515 Monterey St.
“We haven’t heard anything from the owners of the Creamery or Water Store,” Development Center Manager Lee Butler confirmed.
“It’s been that way for the last 30 years,” added Mayor Don Gage. “We don’t really want to negotiate with them; they know what their options are.”
But Boxall said Wednesday she hadn’t heard from the city or its attorneys. She said she learned a complaint had been filed against her after reading about it in the July 14 Dispatch.
“I was spinning mad after reading that piece,” said the 90-year-old Boxall, who lives in a retirement community near Sacramento. “I’ve never had any correspondence from Gilroy whatsoever. I’ve never had a phone call, letter or an email from anyone.”
Attempts to reach Hill at a phone number listed in Hesperia were unsuccessful by press time.
Both buildings are classified as unreinforced masonry structures, which under city and state laws are a hazard to public safety that must be retrofitted to withstand a high-magnitude earthquake. Gage said it’s high time to either take the buildings down and sell the land or sell the properties to someone who will invest in the necessary repair and retrofitting work.
Of the two buildings, the Creamery—listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1982 among buildings “worthy of preservation” because of their significance in American history and culture—stands in the greatest disrepair. It’s been unoccupied and fenced-off because of its condition.
“The next shaker is going to bring it down,” Gage said, of the building erected in 1908. “We can’t even allow cars to park over there; the roof is caving in on itself.”
When it first opened, the Creamery was the first butter factory in town. In the 1920s and 1930s it served as a cheese processing plant.
“The building now stands as a symbol of the time when the dairy business was a major industry in the Gilroy area,” registry paperwork reads. “This structure is the last visual reminder of this pioneer phase in the economic development of the lower Santa Clara Valley.”
But historic designation alone does not afford the building protection from demolition. In order to be listed in the registry, buildings must yield, or be likely to yield, important information in local history or prehistory, according to registry criteria.
However, historic buildings can be demolished or “seriously altered” under certain conditions, City Attorney Andy Faber told the Dispatch. With the building crumbling and uninhabitable because it is a public safety hazard—and because there has been no contact from the building’s owners or movement on a plan to retrofit it—the city says it has no other means of resolving the problem.
“It’s a last resort to work with property owners (in this manner),” Faber said. “(Demolition) is something that isn’t done easily. Generally speaking, if the building is going to be preserved, it has to be done in a way that is respectful of historic concerns. Sometimes, fixing up a historic building just isn’t feasible,” he said.
Faber declined to comment on specifics of the two cases, but said the act of filing criminal action against property owners on behalf of a city Berliner Cohen represents “is not something we take lightly.”
“The genesis of the entire issue has to do with earthquake safety,” he added.
According to Gage, the city suggested the Creamery’s owner donate the building to the city “so they’d get a tax write-off, but we didn’t hear anything about it.”
And if it won’t get fixed, the city wants the historic building demolished.
“It’s dangerous and needs to come down,” Gage said, adding that Hill shrugged off the city’s offer to purchase the building for $150,000.
Boxall, majority owner of the Water Store property, said she was so aggravated after reading about the the filing of the lawsuits in a Dispatch article she received from her son, that she fired off an email to a handful of other investors asking why she was on the hook.
“I thought it was out of our hands,” she said. “I’m so confused about all of this.”
Boxall loaned $100,000 to a man to invest in the downtown Gilroy property in 2007, but he missed monthly payments and ultimately defaulted on the loan. She believed she was free of the building in September 2014 when a fellow investor informed her the property was being turned over to Santa Clara County for public auction.
“I don’t want to go through the expenses of hiring a lawyer,” Boxall said. “I’m ready to forget about it and just bite the bullet. All we did was loan him money and now we’re going to lose our investment.”
But by the time Boxall, who said she’s never visited Gilroy, tried to wash her hands of the Water Store, the man she loaned money to had already defaulted, she said.
Downtown advocate and property owner Gary Walton didn’t mince words when asked what he thought of the city’s filing of criminal complaints against Boxall and Hill—what he calls “bullying.”
“How much pain can we cause these people? They were just the lenders,” he said.
Looking ahead, Boxall said she’s hopeful that the Water Store will be sold to a new buyer by the end of August.
An offer in 2013 to purchase the building for $20,000 fell through when the buyer discovered there were tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fines and penalties levied by the city in an attempt to bring about earthquake safety compliance.