City, property owners outline plan for dangerous building

City officials say the Water Store building, located at 7515 Monterey St., has been in violation of the city's unreinforced masonry ordinance since 2012 and must be retrofitted to earthquake safety standards. Arrest warrants were mailed to the property ow

GILROY—Criminal action against owners of a dangerous downtown building will be halted if they make progress to address its earthquake safety issues, the city has agreed.
Investors and a prospective buyer of the Water Store, located at 7515 Monterey St., met with Mayor Don Gage, Mayor Pro Tem Perry Woodward, city staff and a volunteer task force Sept. 11 to work out a plan for the structure. The building is unreinforced masonry (URM) and under city code, must be retrofitted to withstand an earthquake.
The meeting in council chambers came three weeks after six investors were booked in Gilroy on misdemeanor charges, and after they received arrest warrants in the mail over the building’s condition.
The six investors are scheduled to appear in court Oct. 16, and provided that they move forward in good faith and pay $60,000 in outstanding fines and penalties, “it will be cleared up by then,” according to the mayor.
“Give us a timeline and we’ll monitor it. Then everything goes away once the building is fixed,” Gage told the group. “We want something more than ‘I’ll get to it when I can.’ We just want to see some activity.”
The Water Store’s owners must provide a timetable for future repairs and a proposal about when outstanding penalties will be paid, Community Development Director Kristi Abrams said. While the six investors said they don’t have the finances to pay up, a prospective buyer has agreed to shoulder the burden.
A hot topic at the meeting was the city’s outreach to owners of the Water Store before arrest warrants were mailed to their individual homes Aug. 21.
Documents released by the city last week show 51 letters addressed to seven investors were sent to a Livermore broker over a three-year period, informing them the building was in violation of city law and that fines and penalties were accruing.
“You have to understand how upset we are,” said Fran Cunningham, who along with her husband Dave was booked in Gilroy Aug. 25. “Our broker received all the letters; why no warrant for his arrest?”
According to city documents, a representative for the broker, Am-Cal Services, Inc., told city staff over the phone in August 2012 not to send notices about the building’s problems to anyone else.
Mayor Gage apologized to the group, saying it was “the first time the city had to do something like this,” and that the goal was to get people to the table—not take them to court or put them in jail.
“Hopefully it’s the last,” Fran Cunningham chimed in.
URM Task Force member Steve Ashford, who also owns a URM building downtown and has been working on fixing it, said there has been progress in getting URM building owners to comply with the law.
But Ashford said the city’s approach with the Water Store has the whole town talking, and that its drive to collect fines and penalties since 2013—when fines were first implemented—“has slowed down all of our building.”
“There’s a lot of people who are not happy right now, because of this,” he said. “It’s unfortunate you had to go through this. We need to get this building fixed and I hope the new owners will make it a new building.”
The six investors, the prospective buyer and city staff will meet again in the coming weeks to discuss the necessary repairs and a plan to pay outstanding fines.
“If you don’t do anything to the building for two to three months, we’re not going to be friendly. The issue is getting it fixed,” Gage said. Any discussion about waiving penalties or fines would need to go to the full council for approval, he added.
While some involved expressed relief after the meeting, others were less optimistic.
“I’ll feel better when our signatures are on the dotted line,” said investor Richard Bauden, referring to the six partners’ desire to be rid of the property.
URM Task Force member Gary Walton criticized the city’s approach, wondering how things would have turned out if Bank of America was the investor and not the six, who all live out of town.
“Would the city have done the same thing then?” he asked.


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