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Court appearance postponed; Santana offers to sell historic building to city
| Wednesday, Aug 24, 2011

Property owner Manny Santana (left) takes the first step toward resolving his alleged code violations in a conversation Wednesday with Community Preservation Administrator Cruz Caldera outside the Santa Clarita courthouse.

Manny Santana and Santa Clarita city officials agreed Wednesday to work together to bring Santana’s historic Newhall Jail building into compliance with city codes.

The verbal commitment came outside of the Santa Clarita Municipal Court room where Santana, 60, was set to be arraigned on 11 counts stemming from his alleged refusal to comply with orders to maintain his property.

A city code enforcement official hadn’t yet arrived when Judge Michael O’Gara called the case, prompting the judge to postpone the arraignment until Oct. 4.

In its misdemeanor complaint, the city contends that Santana failed on three occasions this year to bring the property up to code. It accuses him of allowing the paint to deteriorate, failing to keep his perimeter fencing in good shape and and failing to remove graffiti.

Santana said Wednesday he installed the chain-link fence – which abuts the building on one side and a city-owned retaining wall on the other – to deter graffiti vandals.

The city’s complaint also alleges that Santana’s failure to maintain his property causes or will cause the surrounding properties to lose value.

Santana’s jail faces Spruce Street on one side and is surrounded by city-owned property on its other three sides. The jail building is in essence a privately owned island in the middle of the city’s construction zone for the future Newhall Library.

“When we open the library next year,” said Paul Brotzman, the city’s community development director, “we don’t want something in disrepair sitting right next door.”

Outside the courtroom, Santana – joined by his new attorneys, Jan Mason and Thomas R. Anderson – reviewed the facts with attorney Emanuel S. Shirazi of Burke, Williams & Sorenson LLP, the city’s law firm.

Santana admitted he had received numerous code violation notices. He said he simply filed them in a three-ring binder without responding because he thought his now-former attorney was handling matters.

Santana produced a letter from his ex-attorney, Arnold K. Graham, dated Jan. 28, 2010 and addressed to Alan A. Sozio, another Burke, Williams & Sorenson lawyer.

“As previously requested,” Graham’s letter states, “please advise the city … not to correspond directly with our client.”

A subsequent e-mail communication from Graham to Sozio, dated Oct. 1, 2010, requests an on-site meeting to discuss concerns. An e-mail from Sozio to Graham on March 21, after the city sent out the initial code violation notices, states the city would be willing to meet with Santana to discuss access to the rear of his property.

“However,” Sozio’s e-mail states, “the city wanted me to make clear that, unless and until such a license agreement (allowing access) was entered into, Mr. Santana may not continue to traverse the (library) construction site for any purposes, and any entry onto the construction site would be considered an unlawful trespass.”

The meetings never occurred, and Santana told Shirazi on Wednesday that he cannot get to his fence or clean the graffiti off of his wall without “trespassing” onto the adjoining city property.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it,” Shirazi said about the no-trespass order.

“Why don’t you just talk to (the code enforcement officials)?” Shirazi asked. “The best way to handle this so it doesn’t get to this point is communication. I assure you the city will work with you as long as you’re working in good faith.”

“We don’t want to put Mr. Santana in jail or anything,” Shirazi told Santana’s new attorneys.

“The violations on your property can be easily corrected for not a lot of money,” Shirazi told Santana.

Santana said it’s not so simple. He said he went to the L.A. Conservancy for advice on how to deal with paint on a historic building, and he “can’t just go out there with a sandblaster.”

Cruz Caldera, the city’s code enforcement chief, set up a meeting with Santana to look at the property Wednesday afternoon and figure out how it could be repaired to both parties’ satisfaction.

The Old Newhall Jail, built in 1906, sits in the middle of the Newhall Library construction zone.

Santana said he just wants to preserve the historic integrity of his property. During City Council meetings, he has testified repeatedly that he believes the city’s library construction work is damaging his building, and he has opposed moves by the city to include it in the proposed historic preservation ordinance because he believes he’s getting mixed messages.

Nonetheless, Santana said he is willing to sell the old jail house to the city – and only to the city – for $1.5 million, “with stipulations.”

Santana said the stipulations are that it can’t be demolished or sold to a private individual. He said if the city wanted to relocate the building, it must be insured “at an agreed-upon price, and if it goes down, the insurance money is payable to the Santanas or their heir.”

Title to the building is in the name of the Manuel Santana Trust.

Santana said he has not offered the property to the city in writing. He said he offered it during oral testimony in a recent City Council meeting.

Brotzman said the city would probably be willing to buy it at the right price.

“At a reasonable, fair-market value, I’ve got to believe the council would say yes,” Brotzman said, “based on the statements they have made during (City Council) meetings.”

Brotzman said he is not aware of the council ever telling staff to pursue the acquisition.

“Eminent domain is not a tool we would be using at this time,” he added.

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