Judge rules Whittier apartment complex unsafe after touring building

- “Each of you please raise your right hands!"

That's what a judge says before a courtroom swearing-in. For Judge John Torribio, court was in session Monday, but not at the courthouse.

n this case, the judge presided in a building built back in the 1960s. A building on Whittier Boulevard that was never zoned residential, but people live here. It used to be offices.

The city of Whittier wants everyone out. In November, they tried to exercise their police powers and have the apartments vacated citing dangerous conditions, but the attorney for the tenants took the case to court and got a restraining order.

The people who live there are individuals and families pay anywhere from $500 to $1,300 a month in rent. They say they can’t afford more.

Judge Torribio wanted the city to show him what's so dangerous. As he meticulously examined the basement, the judge could be heard saying things like, “We’re not dealing with code violations per se. I’m only interested in things that present immediate danger to the community."

"That’s the standard. Being out of code doesn’t get a red tag.”

Building Inspector Michelle Harencame showed the judge around apartments and talked about what worried her. She was concerned about the electrical system saying, “we have exposed wiring... could cause an electrical fire.”

In the basement, he looked into every nook and cranny. He took notes but was also having the entire proceeding recorded on video to be introduced into the record.

The people who live in the apartments don't see things the same way as city officials. Some showed us their apartments.  

Though roach and rat infested, they said there’s no danger here.  However, this day was about determining if there are dangers that could end in loss of life.

At the end of his two-hour tour, the judge made a decision that the building was not safe for residency. Now, city officials say they'll try to help in a relocation process.

“We’re going to discuss it with our legal counsel," Conal McNamara with the city said. "We’re going to reach out to the tenants' attorney and we want to make sure people are out of an unsafe building as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Julie Lim who represented the tenants told us she's looking forward to “trying to make this next step as humane as possible and not to render these folks homeless.”

People like Joel Zamora, who is sad he has to move but appreciated the judge coming to the building he's lived in for six years. He said he was impressed by Torribio adding, "He’s a good judge in my opinion. He’s really conscious about what’s going on,”

As for the judge, he said what he did is rare. He’s only done it four times in 30 years when he thought it was really important.

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