When it sold for $1.6 million in November 2005, the property at 2915 E St. was one of Golden Hill's priciest single-family homes. The 90-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath, 2,100-square-foot dwelling sits on a half-acre of land in a tree-lined canyon nook. From 29th and E streets the home's completely hidden, marked only by a piece of wood wired to a fence on which someone's scrawled “2915.”
On Dec. 31, at around 7:20 p.m., a man called 911 to report that he'd found a girl in the house, unconscious and covered in blood. When police arrived, 14-year-old Ahlyja Pinson was dead, stabbed and beaten to death.
No arrests have been made and detectives are talking to Pinson's friends to find out how she ended up at the house—that afternoon, she'd gone to a friend's place nearby, said police Lt. Manny Guaderrama. The home, which had sat vacant for two years, had become a hangout for teens, transients and drug users. On Dec. 12, Deputy City Attorney Bryan Ziegler sent a letter to the property's owner saying that 2915 E St. had become a public nuisance.“The property is vacant and unsecured,” Ziegler wrote to Golden Hill Towers LLC, the Cathedral Hill, Calif., holding company that owns the property. “Graffiti permeates the interior and exterior structures of the building. 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.”
City law forbids unlocked vacant buildings, said Diane Silva-Martinez, head of the city attorney's code enforcement unit. Failure to clean up the lot and secure the home amounted to a misdemeanor offense, Ziegler's letter said.Two months earlier, the city's Neighborhood Code Compliance Division had sent a similar letter after an inspection found similar problems. Because of limited resources, inspections are complaint-driven, building inspector Ivan Kornblau said. Aaron Haight, whose apartment balcony overlooks the property, called code compliance to complain about people loitering around the house.
“Something was bound to happen,” Haight told CityBeat.
Skip Goodell, architect for Britanny West, the parent company of Golden Hill Towers, doesn't remember Kornblau's letter. However, he filled out a form, dated Nov. 8, 2007, that had accompanied that letter, saying the building would be demolished within three or four months. Kornblau wasn't able to get out to the property for a second inspection until Dec. 20 and, at that point, the building was secure.
“[Goodell] cooperated with the City Attorney's office to repair the damage,” Kornblau said. But, sometime between Dec. 20 and Dec. 31, someone tore off the home's side door—a door that Kornblau said was intact and locked on Dec. 20.
Goodell went to board up the house last Friday and found half the door sitting inside the house; he couldn't find the other half.
The problems with 2915 E St. aren't necessarily about negligence. Bottom line: The property's out of view, and the people who wanted to get inside knew that. “It's the perfect hideaway,” Kornblau said. As for vacant buildings, “it doesn't matter how we do it—they cut the chain; they break the fence,” he explained. “Secure, unsecure, secure, unsecure; it's ongoing.”
Lt. Chris Ball, who heads the police department's Central Division, said as much: “Without a significant investment, it's very hard” to secure a vacant structure. “I can show you 50 places like it.”
Goodell plans to build a 22-unit condominium complex on the site. He's been waiting on a demolition permit, he said. “I wanted to rip this whole thing down months ago, even a year ago, but it was suggested that it would not be a good idea and would likely hold me up longer if I did, so I went along with the program,” he said
“The program” includes a review by the city's Historical Resources Board—to determine if the home is a historic structure (it's not)—and an archeological study. The latter found what Goodell describes as “a prehistoric dump” that will require an excavation. The dump and the house are not in the same spot.
Goodell finally got his demolition permit and is waiting for police detectives to give him the OK. If Goodell didn't have a permit in-hand, Kornblau said, code compliance and the City Attorney's office would have helped expedite the process. He wants to see the house demolished, “so we don't have to baby-sit it anymore.”
Police are asking anyone with information on Pinson to call 619-531-2293. Pinson, 5-foot-3 with dark hair, was wearing light blue jeans, a red tank top and a black jacket with “San Diego” on the front. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.