“I filed criminally against the owner of the perpetual remodel at 1676 Plum St. (at the corner of Lowell Street),” said Danna W. Nicholas, deputy city attorney for the city.
A total of seven misdemeanor counts have been filed in San Diego Superior Court against the property’s owner, Francisco Mendiola. The counts all carry a sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, if pursued to the maximum extent.
Charges against Mendiola include maintaining a construction fence and storing materials on the street, as well as maintaining steel for a retaining wall and stairs on the public right-of-way in front of the property without a public right-of-way encroachment agreement, in violation of the San Diego Municipal Code.
The seven counts also in-clude allowing the existence of a vacant structure that created a public nuisance. It’s also alleged that the defendant unlawfully failed to obtain a new building permit within 90 calendar days from the date of a written notice from the city.
“[Mendiola] didn’t diligently pursue the work to completion,” states the court case against him. “He also did not remove and demolish the building and structure within 180 calendar days from the date of written notice from the city, as required.”
District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris and his staff recently met with city Code Enforcement and the City Attorney’s Office to inquire about the abandoned remodel on Plum Street and two others located at 4544 Alhambra St. and a house off Cañon and Valemont streets.
Attempts to contact Mendiola were unsuccessful. It is believed Mendiola lives in Mexico.
However, the news was welcomed by Plum Street neighbor Jerry Lohla, who’s been complaining for years to the Peninsula Community Planning Board and others about the injustice of the continued presence of a huge abandoned remodel in his neighborhood’s midst.
“[Mendiola] got the building permit in 2007 and he was supposed to be finished in 18 months, and here we are,” said Lohla, adding nothing’s been done at all to improve the property for four years. “He was given a notice of violation by the city to finish the house or demolish it.”
Lohla said part of the problem with abandoned remodels stems from a loophole in exiting city rules.
“There are very lenient development regulations for remodels,” he said. “Unlike new construction, where the design has to be vetted through the city Development Services and the community planning board, when you buy an existing house you don’t have to do any of that.”
Since it’s assumed with remodels that you’re just going to be “changing a wall here or there,” Lohla said that allows developers the wiggle room to “buy existing houses to circumvent the thorough review process for new construction.”
Lohla said that in theory, remodels are required to keep at least 50 percent of the home’s studs and incorporate them into the new structure. But in practice, he said that often results in “a complete redo of a home, virtually turning it into new construction.”
Lohla organized a petition drive to spur action against the abandoned Plum remodel project, in which he garnered about 100 signatures from neighbors.
“I went down to City Council and publicly spoke about it in March this year,” he said.
Of the fate of the Plum Street dwelling, Lohla said he and his neighbors “are willing to have the house completed.” But he warned that would likely be cost-prohibitive given the 7-digit expense that he said has already gone into redeveloping the home.
“I don’t think anyone could get any profit out of it or even get their money back,” Lohla said. “We’d much prefer to see the house demolished.”
Lohla cautioned that terminating the Plum Street abandoned remodel could continue to be time consuming, given the owner’s history of legal delaying tactics, which have allowed him to string out development of this property and others he reportedly owns elsewhere in San Diego, including La Jolla. All the properties have reportedly been started and then abandoned.
In any event, Lohla said he and his neighbors are prepared to launch a publicity campaign to do whatever it takes to get the abandoned Plum Street remodel remedied one way or another, once and for all.