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Who’s to blame? Iconic Alex Bar-B-Q mistakenly demolished

Pismo Beach city officials say a Shell Beach landmark was illegally demolished – now all that remains of Alex Bar-B-Q is a stucco chimney.

The community and city leaders are outraged and demanding answers, trying to figure out exactly what went wrong and who’s to blame.

The finger-pointing began Wednesday when Kain Building and Design Group said they had Pismo Beach’s permission to demolish the entire building city officials say Kaine is deflecting responsibility, and their claim is simply not true.

“I drove in, and I was like oh my God, it’s gone,” said Laura Foley Gray with a shocked expression.

Alex Bar-B-Q was the first place Foley Gray went to when she moved to Shell Beach from Southern California, over 30 years ago.

“That was a meeting place. Back when we first moved here, when my husband was working out at Diablo Canyon, it would be the place where all the construction workers would meet after work,” said Foley Gray, the owner of Top Dog of California. The grooming salon sits just feet from the once thriving BBQ joint.

It was supposed to be a historic remodel.

“This is unacceptable. This is what was approved; this was a historic remodel. I want the community to see this, this is very important,” said Jim Lewis, City Manager for the City of Pismo Beach.

Pismo Beach city officials say the only thing that was supposed to be torn down Tuesday from the nearly 80-year-old landmark, was an unstable tower.

“They were given permission to move that. That was it. The work continued and continued, and when we noticed it, we immediately tried to red tag it and stop work on the project. We were too late,” said Lewis.

Just like that, the Shell Beach institution was reduced to a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes; the iconic neon sign now sits atop a pile of dirt.

“I’m thinking how could you make a mistake like that? Are they trying to pull a fast one on us,” asked Foley Gray.

Lewis says he’s shocked and disgusted, he calls the renovation gone wrong a community tragedy and a violation of trust. Now, he points the finger at Compass Health.

“As far as I’m concerned they’re responsible, it’s their project, and so they have to figure out whether it was the contractor or them. We work with the applicant,” said Lewis.

“We’re committed to this community and this project and getting to the bottom of how this happened. We share the community’s anger and will continue to work with the city to rectify the situation,” said Mitch Woolpert with Compass Health.

We reached out to Compass Health, asking for a statement. Their Vice President said someone would be reaching out to us, but as of 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, we’ve yet to hear back.

We also tried reaching out to Kaine Building, and all we got was a busy signal.

Lewis says he is working with the Planning Commission to revoke Compass Health’s Coastal Building Permit and is looking into permit fees and administrative citations. Lewis says they’ll be out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Jeff Winklepleck, Pismo’s Community Development Director, released the following statement late Wednesday afternoon:

“The City of Pismo Beach has been provided a statement by Kain Building, the contractor that engaged in the unauthorized demolition of Alex Bar-B-Q in Shell Beach. In that statement, Kain Building attempts to deflect its responsibility for destroying a historically significant landmark of the Shell Beach community.

Put simply, Kain Building’s statement asserting that it had City permission to demolish the entire building is false. The City’s building inspector provided authorization only to demolish the tower structure due to the building inspector’s agreement that the tower constituted as safety hazard. The City’s building inspector did not grant emergency authorization to demolish any other portion of the building. Indeed, the original approval for the project authorized demolition only of a 350 square-foot portion of the restaurant, and construction of an additional 225 square feet of outdoor dining.

While the City takes seriously any safety concerns raised during construction of projects within the City, Kain Building’s assertion that the entire building required demolition for safety reasons is revisionist history. It is simply not true that the entire building was in imminent danger of collapse. The project originally contemplated only very minor demolition.

As is clear from the attached photograph, substantial portions of the original building remained after the tower structure was lowered. Had the remaining portions of the building constituted a safety hazard, Kain Building could have consulted with City staff about remedial measures as they did with the tower. And an experienced contractor like Kain Building could have implemented protective measures that would have maintained the safe structural integrity of the remainder of the building.

It is a true loss to the City that these measures were not taken.”

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