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Renewed calls for probe after city building evacuated over asbestos

Posted at 5:35 PM, Jan 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-22 20:51:56-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Sandy Sim came all the way from Fallbrook just to find out that she was locked out of 101 Ash Street.

She was one of multiple people who came to the downtown building thinking the skyscraper was open for city business. Instead, it was shuttered Wednesday after the county found traces of asbestos on one the 17th floor.

"I think the building should be removed, should be brought down, and just put up another building. It will probably be cheaper too," said Ignacio Alcaraz, a Spring Valley resident who had just left City Hall.

RELATED: City Council leader calls for audit of city building shuttered due to asbestos

The city has been spending $18,000 per day in a lease-to-own agreement valued at $72.5 million. The city inked the deal for the former Sempra Headquarters in 2017 with the plan of moving 1,100 employees into it to save on rent. But the building has remained vacant for all but about a month since then, after the city discovered numerous problems and needed repairs.

City workers finally moved in about a month ago, but vacated last weekend after the county served the city with a violation for the asbestos.

"I think it's taken a horrible toll," said Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who took office after the deal was signed. "I was downtown over the weekend and noticed workers literally wheeling boxes and files and chairs out of 101 Ash."

The city insists the building is safe, conducting 235 air quality tests in the last few months, and that it closed the building in an abundance of caution.

Bry is now calling for an audit into how the city could do a deal like this. She said she cannot understand why the city would take possession of a property that old "as is."

"That is stupid to do when you are doing a long-term lease purchase on a building that was built in the 1960s," Bry said.

Bry has forwarded her request to the city's auditor. Meanwhile, the Mayor's office has authorized the city to hire an outside consultant to determine how this deal came to be.