By City News Service
A nonprofit preservation group whose members allege the city of Glendale has allowed the Rockhaven Sanitarium property to fall into disrepair will have to shore up their legal action against the city for it to proceed, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff’s written decision stated that the manner in which a historic resource is maintained requires considerations of budget, timing and need. Members of the Friends of Rockhaven, whose petition alleges “demolition by neglect,” nonetheless acknowledge that the city has taken action to maintain and protect the sanitarium, including spending nearly $1 million on the facility in the 2020-21 city spending plan, the judge stated.
Beckloff gave the group 21 days to file an amended complaint.
According to the petition filed April 10, the city’s alleged “delayed and deferred maintenance” has increased the cost of performing the repairs required for Rockhaven’s rehabilitation, thus causing “injury to the public purse.”
The Friends of Rockhaven action “challenges the failure of the city of Glendale, and its City Council, to comply with the Glendale Municipal Code and prevent waste of taxpayer funds and injury to public property by failing to maintain and preserve historic property originally known as the Rockhaven Sanitarium and now known as the Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District,” the petition further states.
The group seeks a court order directing the city to, among other things, repair Rockhaven’s roof, exterior drainage and rain gutters and remove mold, asbestos and lead.
In their court papers, lawyers for the Glendale city attorney’s office deny the preservation group’s allegations.
“Simply put, this action … is both premature and unnecessary as the city has voluntarily taken on the obligation … to rehabilitate and preserve Rockhaven,” the city lawyers maintain in their court papers.
Rockhaven was founded by psychiatric nurse Agnes Richards in 1923, beginning with a two-story Craftsman-style “Rockhouse.” Richards eventually acquired neighboring homes to incorporate them into a women’s-only facility, and for much of the 20th century the Rockhaven Sanitarium was an institution for mentally ill women.
“Rockhaven was conceived as an antidote to the prison-like atmospheres of the asylums of the time, where women patients were often imprisoned indefinitely and sometimes abused,” the petition states.
Rockhaven eventually was put up for sale to private developers, who in 2006 planned to demolish the lot to build condominiums. But Friends of Rockhaven stepped in to oppose the transaction and the city bought the property in April 2008 for about $8.25 million, the petition states.
Despite Rockhaven’s historic value, plus an $8 million state grant and community efforts to save it from demolition, the city has allowed the “Gem of the Foothills” to fall into decay, the petition alleges.
“The Rockhaven Sanitarium Historic District contributing buildings are in deplorable condition because of the city’s persistent mismanagement of this important historic property,” the petition states.
Since buying the historic property, the city has ignored its own experts who advised measures to prevent, among other things, water leaks and damage from mold and other hazards, thus jeopardizing its historic preservation and causing further damage, the petition states.
In a February 2016 letter, City Manager Scott Ochoa admitted to a state historic preservation officer that the city was providing limited maintenance to protect the Rockhaven buildings and that such a course was not viable over the long term, according to the petition.
The California State Historical Resources Commission gave unanimous approval to list the Rockhaven Sanitarium to the California Register of Historical Resources in April 2016, and Friends of Rockhaven successfully nominated the property for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which bestowed recognition on the property in June of that year, the petition states.
First published in the September 16 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.