Owner says empty Su Casa building is secured after reports of homeless people inside

The former Su Casa restaurant in La Jolla is pictured boarded up Jan. 5 after reports of homeless people living inside.
La Jolla’s former Su Casa restaurant, empty since its October 2019 closure, is pictured boarded up Jan. 5 after reports of homeless people living inside.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Following neighbors’ reports of homeless people having broken into the former Su Casa restaurant at 6738 La Jolla Blvd., an owner of the property said there currently is no one living inside and that the owners would make repairs and ensure the building stays empty as it awaits redevelopment.

The response came after a Dec. 31 post by nearby resident Cy Pilkington on social media. Pilkington said “a number of homeless people are living inside” the building, which owners Moishe and Batia Chernovetzky closed in October 2019 after 52 years in business.

“I saw evidence [Dec. 30] that looked like people had broken in through the window,” Pilkington told the La Jolla Light. “The wood [covering the windows] was down. It looked like something was going to be a problem.”

Pilkington, who lives one block from the building and manages 12 apartments in the neighborhood, said he is concerned because “I’ve heard about homeless people squatting and other houses that have burned down, and I don’t want that in the neighborhood. Su Casa was a landmark. We used to go there quite often. I didn’t want to see something like that in the neighborhood that all of a sudden turned into a big issue.”

Cy Pilkington took this photo Jan. 1 showing the front door of the former Su Casa restaurant ajar.
Neighbor Cy Pilkington took this photo Jan. 1 showing the front door of the former Su Casa restaurant ajar. The door was closed and sealed shut as of Jan. 5.

Pilkington’s post garnered 182 comments as of Jan. 5.

One of the respondents was Batia Chernovetzky.

She wrote that she and Moishe, her husband, visited the property Jan. 1 after a neighbor told her about Pilkington’s post. “We noticed that a door had been opened from the inside, since they removed one of the boards that we put in order to seal the building and shattered the window,” she said.

Chernovetzky said they called police, who later in the evening searched the property “meticulously. They didn’t find anyone inside at that moment, but they did find two mattresses and trash.”

“It hurts us to know that people are in such dire straits that they need to sleep in a gutted-out building, devoid of electricity or water and pitch black,” Chernovetzky wrote. “As several of you mentioned, it’s a terrible situation that is getting worse and should be addressed by our government. We also understand that events like this are unpleasant for all of us living in this area.”

She said she would repair “everything that was broken” and that “as soon as something irregular happens we will address it immediately, as we have been doing in the past. My husband and I have been checking the property several times a week. We also have a gardener who cleans the area twice a month, along with a person who is in charge of fixing anything broken or anything that seems irregular.”

The property has been empty since the restaurant closed, and Chernovetzky said “we understand that an empty building is an eyesore for our community. This situation hasn’t been easy for us either. We are waiting for the building permits that have taken much longer to obtain than we imagined,” referring to plans to raze the building and place a residential-retail project in its place.

“We hope that the permits are granted soon and that something can be built that will be of benefit to our entire community,” she said.

“The permits are taking longer because of the pandemic,” Chernovetzky told the Light. “From what we are told, we are just waiting for the last signature to get the final construction permit.”

She said they are looking for a buyer for the property while pursuing the redevelopment. “In order to have a buyer, it’s easier to have the permits,” she said.

Deborah Marengo of Marengo Morton Architects, which designed the redevelopment, did not respond to requests for comment on the permit status.

Pilkington said “it was good of [Chernovetzky] to comment and say they were concerned and wanted to do something. ... The place looked rather decrepit. ... I’m glad they decided to clean it up.”

He said his tenants saw people cleaning the property Jan. 2.

Lee Miller, who lives down the street from the Su Casa building, contended it had not been boarded up properly. “You could see that you could break in. It did not look secure. ... If I were homeless, that’s where I’d be hanging out,” Miller said.

“At this time,” Chernovetzky said, “there is nobody living inside the Su Casa building. If this discussion is going to bring more awareness and action to the big problem that we have about homelessness and mental illness, then it was all worth it.” ◆