Homeless people lived there in squalor, but razing of old cotton gin erases longtime code enforcement challenge for city

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The property at 1660 East California Ave. might look like an eyesore now but it’s a welcome sight compared to what it looked like before the city of Bakersfield finally got its way and convinced the property owners to take down the buildings that were here just a month ago.

The city of Bakersfield coordinates the demolition of about a dozen structures each year, but few are as dramatic as the former cotton ginning facility. The complex, actually three buildings on 7 acres, and a combined 57,000 square feet, came down in stages over a period of about 30 days —  and the contractor, Bob Mutch of Gopher Specialty Rentals, razed the last of it Monday. One highlight, from a spectator’s point of view, was the water tower, knocked down Oct. 16. 

City officials are glad to see it all gone. It’s been abandoned for years — and a perfect environment for a constant stream of homeless living in squalor. Just in the past three years the city has opened 15 code enforcement cases against the owner, the Rubae Griffin Trust of Ventura.

Phil Burns, director of the city building department, which oversees code enforcement, said the cotton gin has long been a problem.

“That property has been one that’s been on our radar for years,” he said. “Numerous times we’ve cleaned it up. We’ve worked with the property owner to clean it up. The number of encampments over recent years has really increased. Both city code enforcement and BPD impact team are out there, I would say, weekly if not every three or four days.”

The cotton gin’s owner paid for the demo, Burns said.

The City Council’s Planning and Development Committee continues to study how to best handle abandoned, blighted properties like the cotton gin.

Another property on the city’s radar, according to Phil Burns: The old, long abandoned Oak Furniture Gallery, at 24th and Chester — in the heart of downtown.  

The city has been in conversations with the Palm Springs-based owner, the Cohn-Shell Family Trust, for months about the future of the 95-year-old, 3,000 square foot building.  A woman who answered from a phone number listed for the trust, asked by KGET whether they were considering selling or leasing the property, simply said yes and terminated the call.

Burns said the city has placed liens on a half-dozen 0ther properties, most of them residential, that could result in demolitions. But none are likely to be as striking as the cotton gin demo.

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