From the main road, 2915 E St. is well-hidden from view. Photo by Kelly Davis.
The abandoned house at 2915 E St. in Golden Hill, located at the bottom of a verdant canyon, has a strange sort of rustic charm, yet very real urban problems. Hidden from view by overgrown trees and shrubs, the house and its half-acre lot have a bad reputation.
“That house is a nuisance,” said Bill Stellin, president of the homeowners association for an adjacent development. “It's just been problem after problem after problem for the two years I've lived here. Kids, people breaking in and using drugs, homeless people coming in there.”
When the lot started to turn brown for lack of rain, Stellin contacted the city's Neighborhood Code Compliance Division.
“It was an extreme fire hazard,” he said. “They said, ‘Look, this is on record. We only have a limited number of people who can come out and take care of this. You're on the list'—basically, please stop bothering us. Sooner or later, somebody came down and weed-whacked all the stuff out of here. But as soon as this rain goes away, it's going to be dry again.”
CityBeat wrote about 2915 E St. in January 2008, shortly after 14-year-old Ahlyja Pinson was found in the house, stabbed and beaten to death. In the months before Pinson's death, the property had devolved into a code-compliance nightmare.
“Graffiti permeates the interior and exterior structures of the building,” Deputy City Attorney Bryan Ziegler wrote on Dec. 12, 2007, to Golden Hill Towers LLC, the Cathedral Hill, Calif., entity that purchased the lot in 2005 for $1.6 million. “Trash and debris are all over the property, including human feces. There are openings in the building so criminals have easy access to the property. Parolees have been arrested living on the property.”
Skip Goodell, architect for Britanny West, the parent company of Golden Hill Towers, told CityBeat at the time that he'd been waiting on the permits to tear down the house and start work on a 22-unit condominium complex, but the process was taking longer than expected. A couple of weeks before Pinson's death—in response to Ziegler's letter—he'd re-secured the property but, clearly, someone found a way to break in. As city building inspector Ivan Kornblau put it in the 2008 story: “Secure, unsecure, secure, unsecure; it's ongoing.”
In May 2008, Goodell's financial backer, Cedar Funding, declared bankruptcy, putting in limbo not only the Golden Hill project but dozens of similar projects, too, most of them located in the Monterey area. This past September, Cedar Funding's founder, David Nilson, was indicted on 31 counts of fraud by a federal grand jury. Dubbed “Monterey's Madoff,” Nilson mismanaged roughly $180 million in investments, putting money into risky loans, diverting funds for personal use and paying off old investors with new investors' money.
Many of Cedar Funding's investors held partial, or fractional, interests in properties and 12 investors claimed title to a piece of 2915 E St. Those interests, however, were dissolved as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
Goodell said he had hoped to work something out with Cedar Funding's court-appointed bankruptcy trustee so that the project could move forward. But, he's just about given up.
“I've already drained my resources,” he said. “Nobody's lending anymore—bottom line. If I were to get the property back for 50 cents on the dollar, 30 cents on the dollar—if it would even be worth that—you can't develop it because you can't get financing.”
The property's now being held in trust to be sold at a future date, but when that will be isn't clear. Neither the trustee, Todd Neilson, nor his real-estate advisor, Scott McKinlay, responded to CityBeat's questions by press time.
“They're aware of the history of this property and how they need to make it a priority,” said Nicole Pedone, a deputy city attorney with the code-enforcement unit. “I've definitely informed them of all of the issues that have come up. My understanding is that they do hope to foreclose it, and they're actively looking for a buyer who will invest in the property and rehabilitate it.”
For now, Pedone said, the city's picking up the cost of securing the property and will recoup those costs when it's sold.
“Who pays—the bank or the new owner—gets sorted out in the closing process. I can't say who exactly will end up paying, but it'll get paid back,” she said.
At the moment, the property's mostly secure. Stellin spotted some kids on the property in late February and called the police. The police contacted Pedone, and Pedone contacted Neighborhood Code Compliance. Within a couple of days, Pedone said, the home was boarded up and repairs were made to the chain-link fence that wraps the lot
“Which was nice to see,” Stellin said. “Problem is, people keep tearing down the chain-link fence; they're cutting holes into it. They're going in there, they're prying the door open. Preventative measures have not worked.”
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