Reversing a controversial eviction order, Santa Barbara County Building Official Mike Zimmer announced Thursday that residents of 6619 and 6645 Del Playa Dr. can remain in their blufftop buildings through July 2005.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon by the county’s Building and Safety Division, independent geo-technical and structural engineering experts determined that on those two properties, “there does not appear to be an imminent threat to occupants” from continued bluff erosion. Previously, the county had said residents of those buildings would have had to move out Feb. 1 if hired consultants deemed engineering reports submitted by the buildings’ owners to be incomplete or unsatisfactory.
“I’m pleased that the county has removed the dark cloud over the students living in the building,” said Lou Ventura of Oceanside Investments, which owns 6619 DP. “[The condemnation order] could have been removed a long time ago. The building is safe and was always safe.”
County building inspectors condemned a total of nine DP properties at the end of August 2004 because erosion had exposed some areas of the concrete and steel caissons that anchor the structures to the bedrock below their foundations. The properties at 6619 and 6645 DP were the only buildings out of the original nine in which tenants were still living. The owners of the other seven buildings have had their tenants evicted and have either agreed to cut their structures back from the cliff face, or are still negotiating repair plans with the county.
Tenants at both spared structures — who have been living with the month-to-month uncertainty of shifting move-out deadlines — expressed varying degrees of relief and disgust Thursday night.
“I’m relieved, but kind of annoyed,” said Kelly Burns, a second-year global studies major and resident of 6619 DP. “I’m really fed up with the whole process; it has been such a waste of energy.”
Kristen Schiltz, a third-year business economics major, said she was thrilled to hear the county has rescinded the condemnation order for her building.
“It makes me feel ecstatic beyond words,” Schiltz said. “We’re excited that we don’t have to go through the whole moving process, especially so close to midterms.
Burns and Schiltz said they have backup options set to go, and have not decided whether they are going to stay. They said that, given their circumstances, their landlord agreed to let them out of their leases without penalty.
“We felt safe from the beginning,” Schiltz said, “but I would not live on oceanside DP next year for anything.”
J.P. Roberts, a sophomore psychology major at Santa Barbara City College and resident at 6645 DP, said he is indifferent to the county’s latest announcement.
“It doesn’t make much difference for me,” Roberts said. “I already broke the lease for this place and signed a lease for a place downtown, and I can’t break that lease, too.”
While the county will not force occupants of either building to move out immediately, each structure is only being granted a conditional certificate of occupancy valid through July 2005, Zimmer said. According to the county’s announcement, “The information submitted to the county thus far does not fully satisfy the requirements of the building official and the building appeals board.”
Ventura, whose lawyers filed a lawsuit against the county today, said he will continue to comply with the county’s demands and evaluate his legal options. He said his lawyers had planned to seek an injunction today preventing the removal of his tenants at the end of the month, but the county’s latest move renders such action unnecessary.
Ventura said the county has injured him financially. He said between six and 12 of his 48 tenants have already moved out, and at least half of those remaining have not paid their rent this month. However, Ventura said his total lost rent pales in comparison to the money he has spent on consultants to prove his buildings are safe — a figure well over $100,000.
Zimmer said Ventura’s lawsuit in no way influenced today’s decision to lift the condemnation orders.