Monday, October 4, 2004
Court of Appeal Rules for Preservationists, Blocks Plan to Demolish Old Monterey County Jail
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Monterey County supervisors violated the California Environmental Quality Act by voting to demolish the former county jail without completing an environmental impact report, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The panel Thursday ordered publication of the Aug. 31 opinion in which it overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the county. Justice Richard McAdams said the county should have prepared an EIR, in light of serious issues regarding the historic significance of the jail and the feasibility of preserving the structure.
The county may seek Supreme Court review, County Counsel Charles McKee told the Monterey County Herald.
Latino activists, city officials in the county seat of Salinas where the building is located, the local Architectural Heritage Association, the California Preservation Foundation, and the state historic commission—which has recommended the building be listed in the National Register of Historic Places—have supported preserving the jail.
The building was used as a jail until the 1980s, and was later used for a short time as record storage and as a temporary holding facility for prisoners awaiting court appearances. The Board of Supervisors voted to demolish it in 1999 and has been locked in administrative and judicial battles over the site since.
The county says it wants to build a new administration building on the site.
Opponents have suggested a project similar to one in neighboring Santa Cruz County, where an old jail now houses government offices and a museum. They argue that the 1931 Gothic Revival structure should be saved because of its unusual architectural style and because farm labor leader Cesar Chavez was incarcerated there for two weeks in 1970 for disobeying a court order to stop the lettuce boycott, a key event in the development of the United Farm Workers.
Chavez was visited at the jail by Ethel Kennedy and Coretta Scott King. Advocates of preserving the building have also cited other well-known prisoners, including Inez Garcia, who in the mid-1970s shot and killed a member of the family that owned the migrant labor camp in which she lived, saying he had raped her.
Garcia, whose case became a rallying point for the emerging feminist movement, was convicted of murder, but was freed after the conviction was overturned on the basis of a defective jury instruction. Her defense team included prominent Bay Area lawyers Charles Garry and Susan Jordan.
Monterey Superior Court Judge Robert O’Farrell sided with the county, writing:
“Cesar Chavez leaves an historic legacy because of his many years of toil and leadership on behalf of the farm labor movement. His two week connection with the jail represents just one segment of a lifetime effort. The real question is whether the mitigation measures adopted by [the County] will appropriately preserve the historic attributes of that two week period of Cesar Chavez’s life.”
O’Farrell went on to conclude that the county’s proposal to create a documentary archive of the building would render the loss of the structure itself historically insignificant.
But McAdams said opponents of the plan had established a “fair argument” to the contrary, which is all that CEQA requires to compel an EIR.
The jurist cited an anthropologist’s report commissioned by the county concluding that the building is of historic significance under the criteria for listing in the California Register of Historic Resources and the NRHP, along with the conclusions of a subcommittee of the county’s Historic Resources Review Board.
He also cited testimony at a public hearing by members of groups supporting preservation, including the League of United Latin American Citizens, attesting to the historic and cultural significance of the facility.
The case is Architectural Heritage Association v. County of Monterey, 04 S.O.S. 5334.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company