SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Attorney on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the owners of the California Theatre for creating a public nuisance.
The building has sat vacant for decades and drew in the wrong kind of attention.
The city attorney said the lawsuit is the last resort to make the building and the area around it a safe place.
“Patience has worn thin because it’s now health and safety. We can’t stand by and wait for them to get their act together. They need to do something now,” said City of San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott.
The City of San Diego is suing the owners of the California Theatre, Caydon Property Group which is based in Australia.
The attorney argues because the owners are letting the building sit vacant with no plans for safety changes, it created a public nuisance.
“Its roof is close to falling through. We don’t even feel it’s safe enough for city personnel to walk through so we used a drone to look inside of it, and it’s in terrible condition,” Elliott said.
The theatre was built in 1927 in the heart of downtown on the corner of C Street and Fourth. It once showed silent movies. Now it’s been shuttered for more than 30 years. It is riddled with lead, asbestos, a scene of assaults, vandalism, series of fires, all of which are violations of city code.
The San Diego Fire Department has declared the theatre structurally unsafe, marked with a placard outside the building.
“This placard here is the highest level of hazard and warning,” said the Chief Fire Marshal for the City of San Diego Fire and Rescue Tony Tosca.
“And we recommend exterior fire operations. But it’s all a guide in a discretionary thing,” Tosca added.
Joseph Bahriz, owner of Brooklyn Pizzeria, which is located across the street from the theatre, has owned his shop since 1999. He said the building vacancy has taken a toll on business.
“Very bad. Because here after 5 p.m. when the city closes, there is nothing going on, you just get the homeless you get the people using drugs, rats, I don’t see the reason to have it there,” Bahriz
When the city’s nuisance department could not get the owners to voluntarily make changes, the City Attorney Mara Elliott got involved. Elliott got the owners to only put up a fence and hire 24-hour security, but said there is still a public danger they are not answered to.
It will cost the owners $2,500 a day for every ongoing code violation the city can prove against them in court.
“The intent of that penalty is to incentivize the owner to do something sooner, rather than later. We are hoping they take that seriously. If they don’t, we are going to go through courts to get the orders they need to make sure the nuisance is abated,” Elliott said.
The next step will be for the city to serve the lawsuit to the owners. The city says the company knows they were preparing a complaint and this should not surprise them.
FOX 5 has reached out to the owners, and they have not responded yet.