A flagship Funk Zone building is in violation of serious structure and safety codes, and a number of its tenants were hit with surprise eviction notices last week with talk of more kick-outs on the way. But the exact problems and parties affected are murky to the extreme, with the property’s owner, its tenants — who were either unaware or misinformed of the issues plaguing 22 Anacapa Street — and city officials all giving different accounts of how the messy situation came to be and what fallout will soon take place.
Home to Municipal Winemakers (which will reportedly remain at the location), the Muller Aquatic Center, SLTWTR Creative Agency (which has found a new place), three photography studios, a fine arts studio (until it was cleared out last week), a salon, a real estate investment office, and an illegal living space, the long building covered in corrugated metal siding has served as an epicenter of sorts for the area’s modern-day boom of arts, food, and wine destinations. It’s also one of dozens of architecturally ragtag structures built decades ago when the seaside corner of the city was occupied by more blue-collar tradesmen and industrial work yards.
Larry Cassidy with the city’s Building & Safety Division said his office started looking into 22 Anacapa Street after it received an anonymous complaint on April 5, 2013, about a potentially problematic second-story addition. Cassidy said the second story, which is around 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and occupies the back half of the high-roofed, warehouse-type structure, was indeed added without a permit and that inspections sparked real concerns about its load-bearing limits, especially in the event of an earthquake. The property also doesn’t have adequate parking, an issue that has irked neighbors, and the upper level doesn’t have enough exits.
Cassidy said building inspectors have worked with property owner Kim Hughes, his architect, and his structural engineer “from the get-go” to bring the unpermitted addition up to code. In general, Cassidy explained, the city gives property owners the opportunity to either legalize or remove new square footage when it’s added without the proper sign-offs. But for whatever reason, it appears Hughes and his team haven’t completed the necessary work. “We’ve just about run out of leeway we feel comfortable providing them,” Cassidy said, noting his office’s greatest fear is the disaster — like a fire — that could erupt from the illegally installed gas and electric systems at the site. Cassidy pointed to a 2011 incident on Santa Barbara Street during which a man and his dog barely escaped with their lives when their converted living space above a plaster and stucco business caught fire. City officials declined to give more detail on the Anacapa matter, citing the open enforcement case.
For his part, Hughes lamented what seems like the inevitable loss of some of his “creative tenants,” who he said he spent a “long time handpicking.” He corresponded with The Santa Barbara Independent by email from his home in Nicaragua. A Santa Barbara–area resident, Hughes also reportedly owns houses in Hope Ranch and in Vail, Colorado, as well as multiple commercial properties around the South Coast.
Hughes said he bought the Anacapa Street building approximately six years ago and admitted “much work was done without the benefit of a permit.” Such off-the-books construction is not unusual for the Funk Zone, he said, and asked: “You probably have heard the story about how the name, ‘The Funk Zone,” originated?” Hughes claimed the second story was legally added as a loft in 1994 and that he and his architect had installed more posts and beams to support it in addition to “[reconfiguring] the space to meet the current tenants’ needs. … I believed the building is safe,” he wrote. “My own offices are located in the upstairs.”
Hughes said he’s since learned more lateral supports should have been put in and he’s hopeful “the city is going to continue working with us.” Hughes said the upstairs tenants have been most immediately affected and that he and his property manager issued them 30-day notices to vacate. Some of the downstairs tenants, however, say they were also given notices. The original anonymous complaint to the city came less than a year ago, Hughes claimed.
Of the parking problem, Hughes said he’s been lobbying the city to knock down the chain-link fence that separates the back of the building and its small parking lot from the adjacent public lot along the waterfront, which would “create a paseo into the Funk Zone for much-needed additional parking.” But, he went on, “It is a catch-22. We cannot get the violations removed until we provide parking. We cannot provide the additional parking until the violations are removed.” Lastly, Hughes said he and his team have worked hard to bring the place up to code by conducting gas-pressure tests, installing smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, and adding railings to the stairways.
With yet another perspective on the tricky and still-developing situation are the tenants themselves. No one wanted to speak for the record, but at least two sources claimed Hughes recently promised them the building was completely kosher. They also said communication between them and Hughes and his property manager has been spotty to nonexistent since. Suspect construction had taken place at night over the years, sources said, and that while the city initially planned to post placards last week throughout the second story which would seal off the space within five days, last-minute pleas and complaints to the Community Development Department stayed the closure. Some of the tenants said they expect the second story will either need to be removed or completely redone, and that such work would mean the eviction of the first floor units, as well.
The foggy messages and bubbling bad blood between owner and tenants is reminiscent of an episode in 2010 when more than 20 businesses were kicked out of a Funk Zone work yard on Gray Avenue. In that case, the property owner was either unwilling or unable to meet long-standing demands from the city to secure proper permits around an archaic zoning law, and the space’s electricians, welders, cabinetmakers, and so on were subsequently forced to move or close shop.
Hughes, his architect and engineer, and city officials are scheduled to meet this Tuesday for another check-in. Meanwhile, the tenants of 22 Anacapa continue to either look for new spaces, pack up their things, or speculate about what’s coming next.