Fresno City Hall gets court victory on old Gottschalks building

The Fresno BeeMarch 26, 2014 

Fresno City Hall has won another round in its long-running legal fight with Southern California business owners over the fate of the old Gottschalks Building in downtown.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal has ruled that Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith made the right decision in a lawsuit filed two years ago by merchants Dae and Sook Lee.

The city owns about half of the building located at the southern end of Fulton Mall. The other half was owned by Gottschalks, which operated a department store in the entire building.

Gottschalks closed its store in 1988. The Lees and several partners later opened Fresno Discount Mall, an indoor swap meet, in the building.

City Hall and the tenants battled over alleged code violations as far back as the 1990s. City officials in 2011 began eviction efforts in the city's half.

The city cited 284 building deficiencies that would have cost more than $4.3 million to repair. The city said it warned the Lees and their partners of the eviction possibility if the violations weren't fixed.

The Lees sued in 2012. They alleged among other things that the city did not have legal standing to advise subtenants about possible eviction. The Lees disputed that the building was full of code violations.

Smith in late 2012 ruled that the city's eviction was correct. Smith said the city had to give merchants notice about its closure plans so they could move elsewhere.

The Lees and their partners then appealed, but have now lost that round.

The battle is part of City Hall's larger effort to revitalize the six-block Fulton Corridor from Tuolumne Street to Inyo Street. The City Council recently endorsed Mayor Ashley Swearengin's play to open the mall to vehicular traffic.

The estimated cost is $20 million, most coming from a federal grant. No general fund money would be spent, Swearengin said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or ghostetter@fresnobee.com. Read his City Beat blog at fresnobee.com/city-beat.

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