All that's missing is a sign that reads, "Taggers and vandals welcome."
  • All that's missing is a sign that reads, "Taggers and vandals welcome."
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A July 5 fire at the long-vacant former AT&T building at 4220 Arizona Street (off the intersection of Texas Street and Howard Avenue) caused minor damage to the structure, which was already scheduled for demolition.

According to Lee Swanson, spokesperson for San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, “investigators determined it to be arson. Damage is estimated at $1000 to the building and $1000 to the contents.”

Yeah, might just want to tear the whole thing down

Yeah, might just want to tear the whole thing down

The building has been heavily vandalized and graffiti-tagged over the years, despite attempts by the property owners to keep out trespassers. Copper wiring/tubing and other materials have been stripped from the building.

While on a neighborhood walk on the day before the fire, I went by the property. A chainlink gate on Howard Avenue was unlocked and partially open so that anyone could enter the parking lot.

When AT&T owned the building, it was constantly tagged with exterior graffiti. More recently, the structure was breached through its back doors, and the interior was heavily trashed. Chainlink fencing was installed at the front entrance sometime back, but taggers reportedly climbed a tree to reach the roof. Extensive tagging on upper exterior walls was recently painted over by a team from Urban Corps of San Diego County.

The San Diego City Council on October 2, 2012, unanimously passed an “abatement of abandoned properties” ordinance. It makes abandoned properties (structures and empty lots) subject to the same city code sections regulating vacant properties. Both ordinances specify that empty buildings must be secured, free of graffiti, trash, and hazardous conditions, and owners must post a sign on the property with contact information.

Dave Gatzke, vice president of multifamily acquisitions at Community HousingWorks, told the Reader that his organization “is working to fortify the building from trespass and vandalism. In response to recent break-ins we were already in the process of arranging steel barriers at all doors. These will be installed later this week.” He added: “We have made arrangements to post security guards until they are installed. Roof access will also be reinforced and fortified.”

According to Community HousingWorks, about 118 market-rate apartments will be built on the site; groundbreaking is expected in early 2016. A developer has not yet been announced.

In response to previous neighborhood complaints, Gatzke said that HousingWorks “shares the community's concern about vagrants and vandalism.” Katie Keach, deputy chief of staff for District 3 councilmember Todd Gloria, declined a request for a comment from Gloria.

T-Mobile pays Community HousingWorks to have a cell tower on top of the building. An anonymous source at T-Mobile said the company will move their equipment to another location, as they don't consider it safe there now. They have to move anyway, before building demolition begins.

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Comments

SanCarlosGuy2001 July 7, 2015 @ 4:17 p.m.

These abandoned buildings are the scourge of the neighborhoods. They attract problems, affect property values, lower the quality of the neighborhoods, and possibly result in some serious injury to the local residents and the people breaking into the buildings. I don't understand why the city council members aren't more responsive.

Hopefully, the Reader's reporters will stay on top of this problem and keep a fire (no pun intended) under the toes of our elected officials and developers.

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dwbat July 7, 2015 @ 4:28 p.m.

This appears to be a problem that happens in many areas of San Diego. The city's excuse is generally that they have too few code enforcement officers. I don't dispute that. But maybe this is where councilmembers' neighborhood reps could at least monitor these situations--not do an actual code inspection--and provide feedback. Simply attending community meetings/events may not be enough of an effort on their part to improve our neighborhoods.

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GaryAllmon July 7, 2015 @ 4:53 p.m.

There is evidence of theft and homeless occupancy of this building. Its very existence is a danger to this neighborhood. Why isn't the owner or person responsible for this situation being fined or charged for the police call and the fire department call? I am thoroughly disgusted at the city council's and city attorney's lack of action on this case. Any one who has read even one article about New York city's "zero tolerance policy" knows that buildings of this nature are a magnet for criminal activity. I resent living in a neighborhood that contains this kind of magnet. We can't even get our city council member (Todd Gloria) to say anything about this disturbing situation or much less get off his behind and do anything about it. Inaction over items such as this is simply inviting the criminal element to take over our neighborhood. The people of North Park deserve much better.

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dwbat July 7, 2015 @ 5:20 p.m.

Thank you for expressing your concerns. I'll keep monitoring that site, as the months go by before the building's demolition. I live just a few blocks from there.

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martygraham July 8, 2015 @ 9:04 a.m.

Good job looking out for the community, DW! Hold those feet to the fire.

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dwbat July 8, 2015 @ 12:12 p.m.

7/8/2015 update: Today they were installing heavy steel doors in the back. And there's a security guard onsite now. I assume similar doors will go in front (currently still unsecured).

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swell July 8, 2015 @ 7:58 p.m.

This building has been an eyesore for decades. It is a style of architecture that you would expect in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. There is nothing warm, friendly or welcoming about it. It is the ugliest building as far as the eye can see, or at least until you get to the AT&T building in Hillcrest which is also ugly and intimidating.

AT&T has always aimed for an image of imperialist power and domination. That continues even now with their attitude toward consumers of cellphone, television and internet services.

It is no wonder to me that people in the community want it destroyed. It is an insult.

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dwbat July 8, 2015 @ 10:52 p.m.

Of course it's ugly. It was built like a fortress, to protect the phone system from sabotage. The old telephone buildings are similar in cities across the country. A brilliant satire about the original AT&T and its immense wealth and power was "The President's Analyst" (1967). I saw it many years ago; rent it!

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dwbat July 9, 2015 @ 5:38 p.m.

7/9/2015 update: The front entrance was sealed like a tomb, so it appears that the building will not be broken into again. This is something that should have been done months ago, but better late than never.

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martygraham July 10, 2015 @ 11:22 a.m.

Good job, DW. You got this done 'shining the bright light.'

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dwbat July 13, 2015 @ 6:47 p.m.

Thanks. Seems like a better idea would be to demolish the building now, rather than waiting many more months. You can't vandalize (or set fire to) a dirt lot.

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dwbat Aug. 14, 2015 @ 8:49 a.m.

UPDATE: San Diego Daily Transcript reported that Community HousingWorks sold the property for $7,113,333. The Phoenix-based buyer will now develop the apartment complex.

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dwbat Jan. 20, 2016 @ 11:14 a.m.

January 20 update: Today when I went by there, a side gate was breached. So far though, the main entrance has continued to be secured by a high chainlink fence. There's been no announcement from the owner about a date for demolition.

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dwbat June 24, 2016 @ 11:54 a.m.

June 24 update: The long nightmare is coming to an end. The demolition process has begun. Containers of trash are being hauled away, before the structure starts coming down.

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dwbat July 17, 2016 @ 11:50 a.m.

July 17 update: More progress, as they haul out all the trash before the walls come down.

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dwbat Aug. 21, 2016 @ 8:09 a.m.

August 21 update: The building is history. And the construction phase is underway.

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dwbat Nov. 1, 2016 @ 5:08 p.m.

November 1 update: This is my photo of the site taken today.

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Ponzi Nov. 1, 2016 @ 7:25 p.m.

Where are the NIMBY's complaining about all the development. Loss of parking, congestion and so forth?

If the City of San Diego had any teeth when it came to blighted, abandoned eye-sores, they would have force the demolition of Casa di Baffi in Hillcrest.

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dwbat Nov. 1, 2016 @ 8:47 p.m.

It is indeed an eyesore, but I don't think the City can "force the demolition." The Pernicano family wants to sell the site, but the buyer would have to pay for the demo. I don't know what they are asking now, but a while back it was $12 million. Seems too high to me. But property prices in SD are going crazy.

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dwbat Nov. 30, 2016 @ 7:57 p.m.

November 30 update: The building is making progress.

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