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Demolition of Historic California Jail Stayed Pending New Study

By John E. Dannenberg

The County of Monterey, California wanted to demolish its 73-year-old Main
Jail in Salinas, but was challenged by preservationists who wished it
refurbished and maintained as an historic building. The preservationists
("Architectural Heritage Association") unsuccessfully challenged the
Monterey County Board of Supervisors and then petitioned the Monterey
Superior Court for a writ of mandate to stop the demolition, but were
denied. At the center of the dispute was the proper procedure to obtain
the necessary "mitigated negative declaration" under the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) [Public Resources Code §21000].
The 19,000 square foot, 40-foot tall structure was originally designed in
the Gothic Revival style, replete with such amenities of the period as
vagrant's quarters, an insane cell, a padded cell and a room for liquor
storage. It saw such famous tenants as United Farm Workers labor leader
Cesar Chavez in the 1970's lettuce boycott, but fell into disrepair and
disuse in the 1980s. In December, 1999, the Board of Supervisors voted to
begin the process for demolition.

After studies were conducted regarding historic status, the Board took the
next step of adopting a mitigated negative declaration that opened the
door for eventual demolition. Opposition arose immediately, alleging that
the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate because it ignored
proper valuations as a cultural and historic resource, but these legal
challenges failed.

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal found that the Heritage
Association had met its statutory burden under CEQA of showing that the
Main Jail was an historic resource, that its demolition would have
significant environmental impact and that the proposed "mitigation
measures" were wholly inadequate. Accordingly, the appellate court
reversed the lower court and remanded with instructions to issue a
peremptory writ of mandate ordering Monterey County to set aside its
mitigated negative declaration and approval for demolition, and to prepare
a new EIR fully compliant with CEQA before determining whether to destroy
the 1931 landmark. See: Architectural Heritage Association v. County of
Monterey, 122 Cal.App.4th 1095, 19 Cal.Rptr.3d 469 (Cal. App. 6 Dist.,

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Related legal case

Architectural Heritage Association v. County of Mo

[104] Among other things, the subcommittee questioned Cartier's conclusion that the jail's structure and design are not particularly rare or unique, challenging "anyone to point out similar work in this county, either as a jail of that period or another building in this style." In its view, the jail "is a rare type and its castle like stylings will long recall its former use as a fortress of sorts." The subcommittee thus called into doubt Cartier's conclusion that the structure itself lacks architectural significance as an historic resource.

[105] In its memorandum, the subcommittee also notes Cartier's references to César Ch vez, then adds: "Other historically significant people will be found associated with the jail, such as prisoner Inez Garcia about whose case a book was written."

[106] In July 2001, by unanimous vote following a scheduled public meeting, the Historic Board submitted the subcommittee's recommendation to the Department, thereby endorsing the view that the jail is an historic resource. In doing so, the Historic Board rejected the Department's recommendation that it adopt the mitigated negative declaration and approve the demolition permit.

[107] The County attempts to minimize the finding of historic status by the Historic Board, employing a two-pronged attack. First, the County characterizes the Historic Board's finding as a "gratuitous conclusion" that carries no evidentiary weight, because it was made without conducting the specific type of public hearing envisioned by the Monterey County Code for the designation of historic resources. In addition, the County asserts, "conclusions reached by agency staff subordinate to agency decision makers on the ultimate issue of whether an impact is `significant' do not constitute substantial evidence - they are merely inferences that may be disregarded."

[108] We do not find either argument persuasive. As to the Countys first point, we note that the Historic Board determination was made at a public hearing, at which review of the proposed MND was on the agenda - apparently at the request of the Department itself. Under the circumstances, we find nothing in the hearing process that diminishes the evidentiary force of the Historic Boards finding. As to its second point, the County supports its view that subordinate agency staff determinations lack evidentiary value by citing Perley v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 424. We do not read Perley so broadly. The planning commission in Perley relied solely on the existence of public controversy and had no fact-based evidence upon which to base its opinion of significant environmental impact. (Id. at pp. 435-436.) Perley also predated the CEQA definition of substantial evidence codified in 1993, which logically includes the fact-based opinions of agency staff and commissioners within the codified parameters of facts, reasonable assumptions predicated upon facts, and expert opinion supported by facts. (§ 21082.2, subd. (c).) Here, the record includes fact-based evidence of historic status, which the Historic Board and its subcommittee had gained through meetings with County staff, a site view, and the review of pertinent documents.

[109] In sum, we find the Historic Board's determination to be fact-based and procedurally proper. It constitutes substantial evidence that the jail is historic.

[110] 4. Speakers

[111] At the public hearing held by the Department in June and July 2002, a number of citizens voiced their opposition to the proposed mitigated negative declaration. Some stressed the social and cultural aspects of the jail's historic status; others spoke about its architectural significance; some addressed both features.

[112] Sergio Sanchez was one of the speakers addressing the jail's cultural significance. He holds a state-level position with LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. As Sanchez put it, the jail "means something to the farm workers of this community, there's a huge history of farm workers in this community that place has been documented in books and videos, photographs, where fifteen workers held vigil outside waiting for their leader to come out. Where such people as Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert Kennedy visited this jail, visited César Ch vez in that jail. Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King. Not many places can say that they got a visit not only from César Ch vez, but they got visits from Ethel Kennedy and from Mrs. Coretta King." He stated: "It's not only a history of César Ch vez but of the Latino community of this county that must be preserved and must be remembered."

[113] Plaintiff Mark Edwin Norris addressed another aspect of the jail's cultural significance. Norris is a Salinas resident, a building designer, and a member of the Historic Board and its jail subcommittee. As part of his remarks, Norris mentioned Inez Garcia, another famous jail inmate, saying: "Her case has changed the face of women's rights in a very wide sense." Norris urged the County to postpone any decision to demolish the building "to allow the State office of Historic Preservation . . . to do an eligibility assessment and for the addition of interviews of former jail inmate[s], especially Inez Garcia . . . ."

[114] Enid Sales also spoke. She is a certified historian, who was then serving both on the Historic Board and on its jail subcommittee. She opined that "an EIR must be prepared for this notable historic resource." She commented on the association of the jail with "the perilous labor unrest in the Salinas Valley," and she urged its preservation "to the memory of this critical time in cultural and economic change" in the area.

[115] Echoing that sentiment was Salvador Muñoz, the former cultural consul for Monterey County and another member of the Historic Board. Muñoz observed: "The old jail is a site where historical figures met at significant crossroads of local and national history. It is a symbol of our cultural heritage."

[116] Muñoz, an architect, also spoke about the structure's architectural value. He referred to the Old Jail as "an architectural jewel and a symbol of its period of time." Muñoz further remarked that the Old Jail is "of a unique design, combining Art Deco elements and incorporating details from Gothic and Classical styles, completed [in] November 1931." He later reiterated: "It is an example of a very rare style in Salinas and Monterey County. The Art Deco, Gothic Revival and Classical Architecture." He further noted that the building "is an example of the pioneering technique which used integrated-color concrete in building."

[117] Joel Panzer, a Salinas resident, characterized the jail as "the hub of Salinas" and remarked that its vintage was "probably at the same period of time" as "this courthouse building, the old jail, the Salinas Californian building and the post office, so you also have to look at that in context."

[118] The County asserts that while "the speakers may have meant well, they are not experts on the subject that they testified about." Based on that assertion, the County characterizes the speakers' testimony as "at best, unsubstantiated opinions that do not rise to the level of substantial evidence."

[119] We recognize that substantial evidence does not properly include argument, speculation, or unfounded opinions. (§ 21082.2, subd. (c); Guidelines, § 15384, subd. (a); Leonoff v. Monterey County Bd. of Supervisors, supra, 222 Cal.App.3d at p. 1352.) But we disagree with the Countys characterization of the speakers testimony as unsubstantiated opinion. For example, one of the speakers, Sales, is a certified historian; she linked the jail with the perilous labor unrest in the Salinas Valley. Another speaker, Muñoz, is an architect; he noted that the jail is a very rare style in Salinas and Monterey County. He also stated that the building exemplifies a pioneering technique in its use of integrated-color concrete. These and other speakers remarks represent fact-based observations by people apparently qualified to speak to the question of the jails historic status. That testimony constitutes substantial evidence, because it consists of facts, reasonable assumptions predicated upon facts, and expert opinion supported by facts. (§ 21082.2, subd. (c).)

[120] Taken together, the following portions of the administrative record contain substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that the Old Jail is an historic resource, both culturally and architecturally: (1) the initial study, (2) the Cartier report, (3) the determination by the Historic Resources Review Board, and (4) the fact-based testimony of qualified speakers at the public hearing.

[121] B. Demolition as a Significant Impact

[122] Having concluded that there is a fair argument supporting the jail's status as an historic resource, we next consider the effect of its proposed demolition.

[123] The pertinent legal question is whether demolition "may cause a substantial adverse change" to the jail's significance as an historical resource. (§ 21084.1.) "A project that may cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of an historical resource is a project that may have a significant effect on the environment." (Ibid.; Guidelines, § 15064.5, subd. (b).) "Substantial adverse change in the significance of an historical resource means physical demolition" or other adverse effects, such that the significance of the historic resource "would be materially impaired." (Guidelines, § 15064.5, subd. (b)(1); see also § 5020.1, subd. (q) [same; CRHR definitions].) Material impairment occurs when a project alters or destroys "those physical characteristics of an historical resource that convey its historical significance and that justify its inclusion" in a state or local historic registry. (Guidelines, § 15064.5, subd. (b)(2).)

[124] Based on substantial evidence in the administrative record in this case, there can be little doubt that demolition will result in a substantial adverse impact on the jail. The initial study flatly states: "Without appropriate and extensive mitigation, the proposed demolition will cause a substantial adverse change to an historic resource." As the court recognized in City of Oakland: "The proposed demolition of the building can hardly be considered anything less than a significant effect." (City of Oakland, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at p. 908.)

[125] The County does not contend otherwise. Rather, it simply progresses to the next step in the analysis, the adequacy of the mitigation measures.

[126] C. Mitigation

[127] As explained above, adoption of a mitigated negative declaration is proper only where the conditions imposed on the project reduce its adverse environmental impacts to a level of insignificance. (§ 21064.5; Guidelines, § 15064, subd. (f)(2).) By statutory definition, a mitigated negative declaration is one in which (1) the proposed conditions "avoid the effects or mitigate the effects to a point where clearly no significant effect on the environment would occur, and (2) there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record before the public agency that the project, as revised, may have a significant effect on the environment." (§ 21064.5; italics added.)

[128] Here, to mitigate the impact of demolition on the jail's historic significance, the County imposed the following conditions: (1) photographic documentation; (2) preparation of an historic monograph; (3) salvage of certain architectural elements; and (4) maintenance of a set of blueprints.

[129] Plaintiffs contend that the proposed mitigation measures are not adequate. They assert: "As drawing a chalk mark around a dead body is not mitigation, so archival documentation cannot normally reduce destruction of an historic resource to an insignificant level." As support for that assertion, plaintiffs rely on City of Oakland, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th 896. The plaintiff in that case challenged a mitigated negative declaration adopted in connection with the planned demolition of Oakland's historic Montgomery Ward building. (Id. at p. 903.) The mitigation measures in the Oakland MND included "documentation of the structure in a report and survey, display of a commemorative plaque, and a new shopping center with design features which reflect architectural elements of the demolished building." (Id. at p. 909.) The court found the proposed mitigations insufficient, concluding that they did "not reduce the effects of the demolition to less than a level of significance. [Citation.]" (Ibid.) The court explained:

[130] "Documentation of the historical features of the building and exhibition of a plaque do not reasonably begin to alleviate the impacts of its destruction. A large historical structure, once demolished, normally cannot be adequately replaced by reports and commemorative markers. Nor, we think, are the effects of the demolition reduced to a level of insignificance by a proposed new building with unspecified design elements which may incorporate features of the original architecture into an entirely different shopping center." (Ibid.)

[131] Countering plaintiffs' assertion of inadequate mitigation, the County cites three grounds for distinguishing City of Oakland. We are not persuaded by any of them.

[132] The County's first ground for distinguishing City of Oakland rests on the fact that the Montgomery Ward building was listed as historic by the city itself in its own pre-existing documentation. As we see it, however, that fact goes to the question of the building's historic status, not to the issue of mitigation. And in fact, the court mentioned that point under the heading "The Montgomery Ward Building as a Historic Resource" and not in connection with its discussion of "Mitigation Measures." (City of Oakland, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at pp. 908, 909.)

[133] Second, according to the County, the Montgomery Ward building possessed structural architectural values while the Old Jail does not. As to that point, however, as we have explained above, we find substantial evidence in the administrative record to support a fair argument that the Old Jail has historic significance based on its architectural features, quite apart from its cultural associations. Furthermore, City of Oakland does not hold that historic status must always be based on architectural features. As discussed earlier, historic status may derive from other qualities as well. (See § 5024.1, subd. (c); Guidelines, § 15064.5, subd. (a) (3).)

[134] As a third ground of distinction, the County claims that in City of Oakland "demolition did not appear to be appropriate as the Montgomery Ward Building was apparently in good condition; it had suffered no structural degradation even if it sustained slight damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake." (See City of Oakland, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at p. 899.) While the court does mention the lack of structural degradation, it describes the Montgomery Ward building as having "fallen into severe disrepair, with peeling paint, broken windows, graffiti, and numerous code violations, including the presence of asbestos-containing materials." (Ibid.) Given that description, we find it difficult to accept the County's view that the court's decision was based in any way on the building's "good condition." In the same vein, we observe that the administrative record in this case does not support the County's determination that the Old Jail is in such poor condition that it requires demolition, a point we explore more fully below.

[135] In short, we find no basis on which to distinguish City of Oakland. The analysis in that case is sound, and we apply it here. (See also, e.g., San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society v. Metropolitan Water Dist., supra, 71 Cal.App.4th at pp. 396-400.)

[136] On this record, we find substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that the proposed mitigation measures are inadequate, in that they fail to reduce the environmental detriment "to a point where clearly no significant effect" will result. (§ 21064.5.)

[137] D. Need for an EIR

[138] Without undertaking a full EIR, the County determined that the jail could not be saved, finding that "its preservation or adaptive reuse is impractical due to its age, design, and deteriorating condition, and opening up the building for more usable spaces would seriously degrade the structural integrity of the building and pose a safety hazard to its occupants and neighbors."

[139] We find this determination insupportable, both factually and legally.

[140] As a factual matter, the administrative record discloses mixed conclusions concerning the physical condition of the structure, as well as an incomplete investigation both of the jail's condition and of alternatives to demolition.

[141] In the property condition report prepared by PSI in August 2000, limitations on access and the absence of detailed drawings prevented the evaluator from assessing some key areas of the structure. The unexplored areas include the foundations, the underside of the floor slabs, and the roof trusses. With respect to the roof, PSI stated: "No documentation was available for our review to determine the building's actual roof system. The type and quality of installation of underlying components of the roof membranes could not be determined without intrusive investigation and testing." Reporting on the accessible parts of the jail's superstructure, PSI did observe some evidence of water intrusion. By the same token, however, PSI "did not observe signs of visible distress" to the superstructure. Reporting on the exterior walls, PSI stated: "No major signs of concrete spalling or cracking could be seen during our site visit, except for a few isolated locations, such as at/and around concrete scuppers, at some eaves and soffits, and column capitals and architectural decorative stone features at the south elevation." PSI also acknowledged reports that "the building satisfactorily resisted the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake without damage."

[142] In determining that preservation of the jail was impractical, the County relied on Cartier's report for evidentiary support. Cartier's report mentions retention and adaptation as an alternative mitigation. But it notes that such a course for the jail "may be impractical due to its age and condition (e.g., its roof problems, deterioration of the concrete construction, specific design for secured incarceration, and its lack of compliance with current building codes)." The apparent basis for Cartier's assessment of the jail's condition is PSI's report. But as we explained above, that report is not definitive on the question of the jail's structural condition, much less on the need for demolition.

[143] At the public hearings, several speakers urged the County to further explore alternatives to demolition, such as adaptive reuse. Muñoz argued for further study of "all the options that we could have on the building." Norris asserted that "a qualified historic architecture engineer needs to be brought in to assess the potential for remodeling the structural reinforcement." Sales observed that "an EIR will require that viable reuse be examined." That refrain is repeated in the final addendum to Carey & Company's historic monograph, which states: "A question has arisen as to whether the existing building can be rehabilitated. It is Carey & Co.'s opinion that a study of this nature would involve reopening the environmental review process under . . . (CEQA). This kind of analysis under CEQA would probably be considered an alternatives analysis. Such an analysis would involve not only the feasibility of rehabilitating the existing building, but also other options such as moving the building, rehabilitating and adding on to the building, and doing nothing. One of the alternatives would probably have to be one that is environmentally superior to the proposed project. In this case that would be preserving and rehabilitating the building as a jail or for a new use, such as county offices."

[144] The foregoing evidence discloses the need for further investigation of alternatives to demolition.

[145] As a legal matter, the County erred in proceeding without benefit of a full environmental impact report. One function of an EIR is to address the adequacy of proposed mitigation measures. (Guidelines, § 15126.4.) Another function is to consider alternatives to the project. (Guidelines, § 15126.4.) Neither was fully explored here. In cases like this, an "EIR is required to identify and examine the full range of feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to demolition. [Citation.]" (City of Oakland, supra, 52 Cal.App.4th at p. 909.) By instead certifying the mitigated negative declaration, the County failed to proceed in the manner required by law. (Ibid.)


[147] Based on our independent review of the entire administrative record, we find that plaintiffs have carried their burden of citing to substantial evidence that supports a fair argument that the Old Jail is an historic resource, that its demolition will have a significant environmental impact, and that the proposed mitigation measures are inadequate to reduce that impact to insignificance. Based on that finding, and given the low threshold required for initial preparation of an EIR and the legislative preference for resolving doubts in favor of full environmental review, we conclude that this case must be remanded for preparation of an environmental impact report.


[149] We reverse the judgment and we remand the matter to the trial court with directions: (1) to enter a judgment granting the petition, and (2) to issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the County (a) to set aside its certification of the mitigated negative declaration for the old jail project, (b) to set aside its approvals for demolition of the old jail, and (c) to prepare an environmental impact report in compliance with CEQA in the event it determines to pursue demolition of the old jail.

[150] Plaintiffs shall have their costs on appeal.

[151] WE CONCUR: Bamattre-Manoukian, Acting P.J., Mihara, J.

Opinion Footnotes

[152] *fn1 CEQA is codified in the Public Resources Code, starting at section 21000. Further unspecified section references are to that code.

[153] *fn2 The Guidelines are located at Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations, starting at section 15000. Further unspecified guideline references are to those regulations.

[154] *fn3 According to Cartier, eligibility for listing on the CRHR is limited to property that meets one or more of the following four criteria: "1. Association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or regional history or the cultural heritage of California or the United States; "2. Association with the lives of persons important to local, California, or national history; "3. Embodying the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region, or method of construction, or representing the work of a master, or possessing high artistic values; or "4. Has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area, California, or the nation." See section 5024.1, subd. (c); Guidelines, section 15064.5, subd. (a)(3).

[155] *fn4 According to Cartier, eligibility for listing on the NRHP is limited to property that meets one or more of the following four criteria: "a. that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of our history; "b. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; "c. that embody distinctive characteristics of type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant or distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; "d. that have yielded, or are likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history." See 36 Code of Federal Regulations part 60.4.

[156] *fn5 The identified standards are those of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS).

[157] *fn6 Collectively, the parties made six requests for judicial notice, all in 2004. Plaintiffs' initial request was made in February; they made supplemental requests in April and August. The County's initial request was made in March, followed by supplemental requests in May and June. Broadly speaking, all six appellate requests for judicial notice relate to the Old Jail's post-judgment nomination for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. We granted the first five requests, but denied the sixth (plaintiffs' second supplemental request), having by then already advised the parties that we did not intend to consider extra-record evidence.

[158] *fn7 We granted leave to the California Preservation Foundation to appear as amicus curiae. Appended to its letter brief are five exhibits. Four contain extra-record evidence concerning the jail; the fifth is a bulletin published by the National Register of Historic Places entitled "How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation."