Fight Over Historic Landmark in Whittier

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A California landmark is suffering “demolition by neglect” and the company that bought is not developing 15 percent of it as affordable housing as it promised, a preservation group claims in court.
     California’s oldest juvenile jail – a historic landmark – has been deteriorating in escrow for six years, and its “pending sale at a 2011 recession-market value is against the interests of the state, provides no affordable housing, and continues demolition by neglect of the abandoned landmark property,” the Whittier Conservancy claims in Alameda County Court.
     The Whittier Conservancy claims the California Public Works Board and the state’s Departments of General Services and Finance are violating environmental law and letting Brookfield Residential a Real party in Interest, duck its promise.
     The Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility has “numerous historically significant resources on a 74-acre site in Whittier,” the nonprofit claims in its June 10 lawsuit.
     The jail, which operated from 1891 to 2004, is a designated California landmark.
     When Nelles was closed in 2004, the state declared the site surplus to be sold, and it did sell it, to Brookfield Residential in 2011 for $42.5 million.
     That sale stipulated that 15 percent of the property was to be developed as affordable housing, but Brookfield’s proposal provides no affordable housing at all, though the state’s need for affordable housing has increased, according to the complaint.
     Brookfield also plans to demolish four of the site’s nine historically significant structures. Meanwhile, the Nelles property remains in escrow and is being effectively demolished by neglect, the conservancy says.
     It seeks writ of mandate ordering the state to rescind its approvals of Brookfield’s project, to protect the buildings from demolition, and to refrain from further approvals unless Brookfield complies with the California Environmental Quality Act.
     Neither side could be reached for comment Friday.
     The conservancy is represented by Susan Brandt-Hawley, of Glen Ellen.

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