The City Council approved the demolition of the landmark theatre in April 2017, although its Downtown Community Plan mandates that it not be demolished. The plan requires that qualified historic resources within the plan area "be retained on site and rehabilitated." The proposed demolition required an environmental impact report (EIR) process because of its inconsistency with the plan and its adverse environmental impacts.
As described by the Court, the legal challenge filed by SOHO "coalesce[d] around a central theme: the City failed to adequately address the ability to adapt and reuse" the California Theatre, "such that its loss could be avoided, mitigated, or minimized." (Ruling, p. 1, attached.)
The Court granted SOHO's legal petition in full because the EIR for the "1122 4th Avenue Project" failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality act (CEQA) by refusing to analyze even one alternative providing for adaptive reuse of the 1927 Theatre and its historic Agua Caliente racetrack mural as required by the City's adopted Downtown Community plan. The project as approved by the City would allow complete demolition of the theatre complex to build a 40-story, 420-foot-tall mixed-use development of 282 residential units and parking along with a street level retail lobby.
The ruling states that "in light of the project's inconsistency with the Downtown Community Plan, at least one full alternative must be evaluated in a revised project EIR ... Without the addition of a full rehabilitation alternative, the EIR fails in its stated purpose to inform the public and responsible officials." (Ruling, p. 4.)
The ruling also notes that the City's expert Historical Resources Board agrees that the project EIR "should contain further alternatives including an adaptive re-use option." (Ruling, p.4.)
SOHO attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley said, "CEQA is citizen-enforced. Because of SOHO's case and this Court's ruling, feasible ways to avoid demolition of the irreplaceable California Theatre must now be publicly studied and discussed. The theatre may then be adapted for viable new uses just as required by the Downtown Community Plan."
SOHO's Executive Director, Bruce Coons stated, "The California
is an outstanding historic building that has been standing for almost 100 years, it
presents many opportunities for successful adaptive reuse to revitalize the C Street corridor. When the City's EIR failed to study alternatives to demolition, we put our faith in the Court to enforce CEQA. We are grateful for the Court's comprehensive enforcement of environmental law and look forward to review of an alternative in an EIR that will allow this historic building to survive as part of a successful new project. We know it can be done."