When the El Cid Hotel caught fire in mid-December, a police sergeant witnessed individuals jumping out of windows and upward of 50 homeless people living in the ramshackle downtown building.
“Somebody is going to die, and that is unacceptable,” Las Vegas Metro Police Department Sgt. Beth Schmidt told the city council on Wednesday.
For more than a decade, city code enforcement has reckoned with the vacant 6th Street structure, and every case has involved transient activity. The blaze described by Schmidt had been the second in 30 days and the acute threat the dilapidated motel poses to public safety has substantially escalated in the past four months.
Since October, police have received more than 100 calls for service to the El Cid and a nearby annex, and there have been at least four fires between the two buildings, according to Code Enforcement Supervisor Vicki Ozuna and city data.
“I can’t see a bigger hazard to the downtown area than this building,” Las Vegas Deputy Fire Marshal Rick Rozier said.
On Wednesday, city policymakers were clear: The El Cid and the annex will be demolished.
“(The owners) would know that it’s going to happen one way or another,” City Manager Scott Adams said. “Whether they do it or we do it, it’s going to come down.”
Adams had been so disturbed by a consistent wave of imperilment — including fires, drug use, the presence of asbestos and vagrant mischief — that he declared an imminent hazard on Jan. 31 and authorized the two structures to be destroyed. The cost would not exceed $500,000, according to a city staff report, and be paid by the owner.
The city council ratified his declaration Wednesday, ordering San Francisco-based property owner Good Earth Enterprises, Inc., which property records show purchased the El Cid in 1993, to install permanent fencing around the buildings within 24 hours as issuing a city demolition permit to expedite the process.
Timothy Elson, a lawyer retained by Good Earth, sought to reverse any suggestions of his client’s apathy: “We agree that these buildings need to come down.”
In fact, Elson said owners Jeffrey and Sophia Lau, who have at least five other properties downtown, were making “significant progress” toward a solution. The couple is securing a Clark County permit to perform asbestos abatement in their properties, which must occur prior to demolition, and have ordered permanent fencing.
But for city officials, the actions were too little and too late. Frustration has been boiled over by Good Earth’s unresponsiveness to code enforcement action and its bare-minimum efforts to secure its properties, they say.
There have been 20 code cases against both buildings since 2006 and there are two recent active cases. Outstanding civil penalties for current non-compliance nears $50,000.
“There is obviously a litany, an absolute litany, of ridiculousness and lack of attention to this facility by the owner,” Councilman Cedric Crear said.
Councilman Bob Coffin, who represents Ward 3 where the El Cid and annex are situated, castigated Good Earth as “probably the worst kind of absentee owners.”
Whether the owners or Las Vegas ultimately proceeds with the tear-down, it may not occur as quickly as the city would hope.
Brett Hagedorn, the regional manager for Construction Group International, the company as of now that would perform the work on behalf of either, estimated it would require at least four months to rid the buildings of absestos.
That timeline would put the company on track to demolish El Cid and its annex by July, he said.
After a recent fire at the El Cid Hotel, the city’s code enforcement hired a contractor to perform an emergency abatement on Dec. 17, securing the vacant motel’s first two floors and open elevator shafts. The abatement cost $18,698, which will be paid by the owner.