By Mark A. Diaz
City officials seek to punish the responsible parties that demolished Alex’s BBQ to the fullest extent of the law which may include doubling fines and a request to revoke the building permit at the next Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Oct. 9.
“You cannot just come into Pismo Beach and just tear stuff down,” said City Manager Jim Lewis, “those days are over.”
Lewis said the moment they saw that the beginning of the building’s destruction, they sent someone to stop it. In the few minutes it took a city building inspector to drive from city hall to the site, it was too late.
“We came out, and half of the building was gone,” said Lewis speaking to Coast News by phone on the day of the event. Obviously shaken, he went on to say, “When I turned, and I saw it, my stomach dropped to my feet. I felt sick, and I am so sorry that we couldn’t get to it quicker. I’m sorry for our community. That was a marquee building.”
The building was planned to be a key piece in the $13 million Shell Beach Streetscape project currently in production along Shell Beach Road. Lewis explained that the reason why the building had been vacant for so long was due to the enormous amount of planning both property owner, Compass Health, and the city invested to ensure the structure retained its charm and historical nature.
“We worked diligently to protect that building,” said Lewis.
In response to arguments that the city “turned a blind eye” or that the council only wants to gather money from fines, Lewis said that there is “nothing further from the truth.”
Unfortunately, the structure that has stood since the 1940s cannot merely be rebuilt. Due to the project’s rehabilitation status, modern-day city codes and zoning laws such as parking requirements did not apply. Now considered new construction, Lewis said that the community and city would have to start from “ground zero.” Lewis stressed that he wants to have a public dialogue to determine what will replace the landmark.
When asked if the city would be willing to consider the project a remodel since the chimney was still standing, Lewis said, “It would be a complete mockery of our code and entitlement process to call a chimney a remodel.”
Compass Health representative, Mitch Wolpert, read a statement at the city council meeting on the day of the destruction. Wolpert read, “I am here to share the frustration and disappointments with today’s events at Alex’s. We are committed to this community and this project and to getting to the bottom of how this happened.”
Speaking candidly to the council, Wolpert did not seem to understand the scope of the renovation despite being the lead on the project. “I am told [it] went well past what I am told what was approved, well past what is acceptable…” and continued by stating that Compass Health was “committed to the Alex’s project.”
Sean Kain, president of Kain Building and Design Group, the company in charge of the renovation issued a response via email to Coast News, “The demolition of Alex’s was conducted after meeting with, and approval by, numerous city officials in response to on-site engineer’s emergency advisement of an imminent and immediate threat of collapse to any portion of the building with no warning.”
The city’s response to Kain’s statement said in no uncertain terms that the company had no authorization for the demolition and that excuse citing safety reasons is “revisionist history.”
“Put simply,” the city’s press release reads, “Kain Building’s statement asserting that it had city permission to demolish the entire building is false. The city’s building inspector did not grant emergency authorization to demolish any other portion of the building.” Due to safety concerns, the city approved the taking down of the building’s tower.
Kain Building did not respond to Coast News with follow up questions to the city’s statement nor did Compass Health to inquiries.
Also irreplaceable was one of John Landon’s murals on one of Alex’s outside walls. The local artist, whose artwork can be found on buildings throughout SLO County, died in a car crash earlier this year.
People will undoubtedly share their favorite experiences of the restaurant. It was said that if someone was going to spend a night on the town, it was better to start at Alex’s and not end there due to the notoriously strong drinks the bartenders served. One of this reporter’s favorite memories is going to Alex’s following a wedding reception. My cousin strolled into the crowded bar and shouted “next round is on me,” and bought everyone a shot of tequila. Things get a little fuzzy after that.