Reports of La Casa de la Raza’s demise, like that of Mark Twain’s, might have been greatly exaggerated, but the financially embattled Latino cultural center has just launched a $2 million GoFundMe drive as a last-ditch effort to save its East Montecito Street digs from imminent foreclosure. In addition, La Casa has two new executive codirectors, Dr. Andrea Medina and Ana Huyhn, and a new board president. Whether that’s enough will soon be seen because La Casa’s doomsday clock is ticking loudly.
October 24 is the deadline for La Casa’s creditor, Tomas Castello, to serve notice that he intends to foreclose. Once he does, La Casa will have 30 days to come up with the $1.1 million Castello — who served as the organization’s very first executive — says he is owed. Three years ago, Castello paid off the bank threatening to foreclose the $523,000 that was then owed. Since then, Castelo claims the accrued late fees, interest, and legal costs he incurred to fight court battles waged against him by La Casa’s previous board leadership have added an additional $600,000.
La Casa was officially founded in 1971, when it bought a former lumber warehouse and transformed it into what became a cultural and political center for the South Coast’s Latino and activist communities. For the past 10 years, La Casa has been dogged by such intense legal and financial problems that when it attempted to declare bankruptcy a few years ago, a judge ruled the board was not legally constituted to even pull the plug on itself. La Casa’s new leadership is attempting to rectify these problems, which will require a new election of a new board by La Casa members.
Then, of course, there is the matter of money. In addition to the $1.1 million needed by Castelo, the IRS is demanding more than $250,000 and the county tax collectors are demanding $70,000 in unpaid property taxes.
Late last year, the Santa Barbara City Housing Authority had agreed to loan La Casa $1.5 million in hopes of preserving some of La Casa’s current programs on the site while transforming the rest into affordable housing. This May, the Housing Authority pulled out of the deal when its board was twice informed that La Casa would need more money than that.
If La Casa has any hopes of surviving, the new leadership needs to come to terms with Castelo — a shrewd and polarizing attorney and real estate operator — whom the previous board leadership personally reviled and attacked in court with little to show but expensive legal bills. Castelo’s attorney Tony Fischer said he and his client have met with the two new codirectors and found them to be “very impressive, very realistic, and extremely thorough.”