Demise Of Overland Hotel Raises Preservationist And Environmentalist Objections

Questions have emerged about the methodology the City of Needles is using to eradicate the blight of the historic Overland Hotel.
Located in the heart of downtown Needles at 710 and 712 West Broadway, the Overland Hotel was established as a signature Best Western Hotel on Old Route 66 in 1962. It stood alongside a Sambo’s Restaurant and was a major landmark and element of Needles’ economy. It featured a substantial swimming pool and air conditioned and fashionable rooms, temporary lodging that put Needles’ best foot forward to the hundreds of thousands of travelers who sojourned annually along The Route 66 “Mother Road” that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles.
With the demise of Route 66 as a major transcontinental highway brought on by the construction of the I-40 and the bypassing of historic downtown Needles, the Overland and the restaurant lost patrons, fell into disuse and, in time, into disrepair. Nevertheless, both historic preservationists and those with entrepreneurial vision continued to entertain the notion of reviving the hotel to its former glory.
In recent years, the California Receivership Group, based in Los Angeles and led by attorney Mark Adams, had established the Overland Motel Restoration Project, aimed at rehabbing the hotel as part of an energetic Needles and Route 66 revival.
More recently, members of the community including the Democratic Club had floated the proposition of transforming it into a homeless veterans’ shelter and were in dialogue with the Veterans Administration toward that goal. Indeed, because many of the rooms in the hotel were still intact and the doors were unlocked and otherwise unsecured, a number of homeless veterans, referred to as “vagrants’ by city officials,  had begun squatting there.
The vagrancy issues frustrated city officials, as did the State of California’s move four years ago to disband all of the state’s redevelopment agencies, which crippled the city’s efforts to makeover the city’s deteriorating downtown. They were further discouraged by Adams failure to make progress on the restoration project. In August, they took the matter into their own hands. Based upon Needles City Manager Rick Daniels’ recommendation, the city council authorized proscribing the hotel property as a burn area and the historic structure was torched as part of a fire crew training exercise to take place in mid-October. .
This development outraged some members of the community, who yet hoped that the hotel would be resurrected as a going concern.
What followed has outraged a cross section of Needles residents.
The torching occurred over a period of time starting the second week of October. The office part of the hotel burned pretty readily and was consumed but the long two-story portion of the hotel resisted the flames. At one point, fire crews were observed standing on top of the building, cutting holes into the roof in an effort to encourage a conflagration. Stubbornly, major portions of the hotel refused to burn. Only then was it recognized that a major portion of the hotel’s structure and its insulation was composed of asbestos.
Under question is why city officials did not carry out an adequate survey of the building before condemning it to destruction by fire.
Objections to the city’s action on environmental grounds are being heard. In particular, there is concern that the city’s failure to undertake asbestos tests on the building prior to the fire signals that no examination of the building’s composition was made. This led, some Needles residents say, to a situation in which airborne smoke containing a host of noxious elements might have endangered public health. Furthermore, some residents find problematic the city’s intent to use bulldozers to scoop up the hotel rubble and debris, which they claim is laden with hazardous materials, into dump trucks and transport it to undisclosed desert drainages in or around Needles.
In a staff report to the city council dated November 10, city manager Rick Daniels indicated what Needles residents had already observed in witnessing the fire crew’s futile attempt to burn the building, namely, that the city had given up entirely on the concept of reclaiming the hotel. Daniels stated that the “city council approved allocating $85,000 from the surplus property fund money ($97,659 balance) for demolition and/or controlled burn of the Overland Motel.” Matter-of-factly, he reported, “The San Bernardino County Fire Department conducted the training exercise with nearby fire agencies and burned all of the building that could safely be done without jeopardizing nearby structures and electrical lines and transformers. The court appointed receiver solicited proposals and received two based upon two scenarios; remove the building structure and leave the asphalt and concrete as ground cover ($51,000}, and denude the site removing any and all structures including concrete and asphalt ($81,000). In order to stay within the council authorized appropriation, I authorized the receiver to accept the bids for the removal of the remaining portions of the buildings and leaving the concrete and asphalt.”
In the staff report, two other items were contained, which now have Needles residents up in arms.
Under the category of “Cost to date,” the report shows “Asbestos Survey (unanticipated) $1,800” and “Asbestos Removal (unanticipated) $ 27,000.”
This proves, some Needles residents say, that the city failed to undertake an adequate environmental review of the demolition project before authorizing it. Pointing out that more than 65 percent of Needles residents live below the poverty line, they say the city council has cavalierly engaged in violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and the Safety Code of the State of California because they believe the city’s residents are too unsophisticated and too economically disadvantaged to challenge City Hall.

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