for immediate release

Whittier Conservancy Wins Court Case, Judge Voids Sale of Historic Landmark Fred C. Nelles Site for Violation of Environmental Laws 

Contact: Ted Snyder, President, Whittier Conservancy  (562) 692-7066
Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorney  (707) 732-0007  susanbh@preservationlawyers.com

Whittier, July 13, 2016.   On July 31, 2015 the The Whittier Conservancy won the primary issue in its public‐interest lawsuit filed one year ago against the State of California. The Conservancy successfully enforced the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to protect the former Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility (“Nelles”), California Historic Landmark No. 947. 

The Conservancy’s suit against state agencies was filed in Alameda County where the Attorney General maintains offices. The Alameda County Superior Court ruled yesterday afternoon, July 12, that the extension of the Nelles escrow must be set aside due to failure to consider and mitigate environmental impacts. 

Judge Frank Roesch ruled that the state agencies failed as required to comply with CEQA chapters 1 and 2, to “identify and consider the environmental impacts of their decisions and to explore feasible alternatives and mitigation measures prior to approving the sale of property to, for example, a buyer intent on the demolition of historic resources… even if they are not required to prepare an EIR.”

The Conservancy’s preservation attorney Susan Brandt-­Hawley explained that “the escrow for the state’s 2011 sale of the Nelles landmark site to Brookfield Residential has an expiration date of March 2015. When Brookfield did not meet required conditions, the state extended the escrow to March 2017. However, that extension – and the sale – are now void because the state failed to comply with CEQA approving the extension.” The Conservancy had requested that the state condition the escrow extension on Brookfield’s protection of the Nelles landmark buildings.

Brandt­-Hawley stated: “CEQA has 6 chapters. The Legislature exempts sales of California surplus properties from chapters 3­‐6. However, such sales must still comply with Chapters 1 and 2. The Court ruled that the state agencies violated CEQA when they extended the Brookfield escrow without any attempt to comply. The California Supreme Court has ruled that CEQA’s first two chapters require agencies to consider and mitigate environmental impacts before making discretionary land use decisions.”Conservancy President Ted Snyder expressed the Conservancy members’ reactions to the ruling. “We are impressed with and grateful for the Court’s carefully‐reasoned decision. On behalf of the citizens of the state and the city, Conservancy representatives appeared before the state agencies last year. We requested the state’s compliance with CEQA to protect the Nelles landmark before extending the escrow.”

Conservancy Executive Director Helen Rahder explained further that "it would have been appropriate for the state to require Brookfield to incorporate the historic resources, which encompass fewer than 3 of 75 acres on the Nelles site, into any new development. Yet this was not considered despite Brookfield’s known plan to cause the imminent loss of landmark status through needless demolition. Our lawsuit was a last resort."

Now that the Nelles escrow has expired, the state agencies must follow statutory procedures before entering into any new purchase and sale contract with Brookfield or any other buyer that may now come forward.

This will require consideration of affordable housing options, current market price, and adaptive reuse of the historic Nelles buildings. The Conservancy has suggested how the site could be designed around the landmark buildings in a unique, sustainable, pedestrian‐friendly, inter‐generational, transit­‐oriented community where residents can work, shop and play where they live.


for immediate release

Whittier Conservancy Sues City of Whittier 

Contact: Helen Rahder, Executive Director, Whittier Conservancy
(562) 858-3110

Whittier, Aug 1, 2015. On July 31, 2015 the Whittier conservancy filed suit against the City of Whittier to enforce mandatory state laws that protect the former Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility (“Nelles”), California Historic Landmark No. 947. Founded in 1891, Nelles is the oldest juvenile facility in the state and houses historically significant resources on a 74-acre site.

The Whittier Conservancy brings this action in the public interest after the City of Whittier approved a generic mixed-use commercial and residential development that would needlessly demolish most of the historic resources at Nelles and much of its urban forest.

The Conservancy and others advocated for a sustainable project that would be unique, transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, inter-generational, architecturally relevant, maintain the abundance of mature trees, be consistent with the Whittier Boulevard Specific Plan Workplace District, and be respectful of the tradition and history of the community and the site itself. Adaptive reuse of the Nelles historic resources is feasible. 

In approving the demolition project proposed by Brookfield Residential, the Whittier City Council instead violated the mandates of state law, local ordinances, and due process. During many years of administrative proceedings, representatives of the non-profit Conservancy — along with the California Office of Historic Preservation, the Los Angeles Conservancy, the California Preservation Foundation and hundreds of Whittier citizens — urged the City Council to act in the interests of the community to fairly consider development alternatives to reuse the ‘built environment’ of the stunning 74-acre Nelles site. The City instead bowed to Brookfield’s short-term economic demands in a convoluted series of actions accomplishing a post hoc rationalization of decisions made too soon.

The California Supreme Court instructs that such actions short of a formal, binding approval are illegally premature if they move a project’s momentum significantly forward.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is citizen-enforced. The Whittier Conservancy seeks to enforce CEQA and City ordinances that protect the landmark Nelles property, and to require due process of law.

“Over and over we warned the City Council against the actions it was taking on behalf of the applicant’s plans for Nelles,” said Ted Snyder, President of the Conservancy. “And each time the council was assured by city staff and consultants that their actions were legal and their environmental documents adequate. We believe those assurances were unwarranted and the Council’s reliance upon them unwise.”

“Also, on multiple occasions we met with the proposed developer and the city to offer solutions, but ultimately the city was unsupportive and the developer unresponsive. So now we seek to have these issues decided in a more impartial and objective forum,” said Snyder.

“We simply cannot sit on the sidelines and watch a golden opportunity squandered on a project that causes such significant environmental impacts and offers so little benefit to the community,” Snyder continued. “The Council approved a plan that provides no public open space, no affordable housing, no playing fields for youth, no continuum of care facility for seniors, no venue for the arts, no unique retail component: in short, nothing that this community really needs. Meanwhile, it will cause significant adverse impacts to traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and will needlessly destroy a majority of the Nelles site’s irreplaceable historic resources. This legal action is only part of our efforts to ensure a better project for the people of this community.”