Santa Paula Times

Council & The Mill: Supporters urge resolution to reopen landmark

December 24, 2004
Santa Paula City Council

The City Council rejected pleas to allow the Hengehold family to continue to operate The Mill – a historic county landmark – at the December 20 meeting where about 100 Mill supporters spilled out of the council chambers.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe City Council rejected pleas to allow the Hengehold family to continue to operate The Mill – a historic county landmark – at the December 20 meeting where about 100 Mill supporters spilled out of the council chambers. Council members had discussed the ongoing dispute with The Mill – centered on $14,000 in back rent and the structure’s safety - in closed session before hearing from Mill supporters during public comment.Citizen involvement in the future of The Mill should be initiated, said attorney Bill Slaughter, who has been representing the Hengehold family without charge. “…have a whole bunch of people come down,” including the Hengeholds, whose family has owned the building on city-leased property for half a century, to discuss the future of the store that also serves as an informal museum. Slaughter noted that his attempted discussions have been rebuffed by the city, but “what I am asking here is that the council understands the role that The Mill plays in our city.Among The Mill’s personas is that of a “cultural center” and a process must be crafted that would reopen The Mill and return the Hengeholds as operators. “Without them that building is an empty shell,” although the family would gift the structure to an entity that would preserve it. Slaughter suggested that a committee be formed to study the issue of Mill preservation and operation to “see what we can do in the future….”Councilman Rick Cook said that for the six years he has served the council, attempts have been made to collect the rent on the land under The Mill. “There are other city properties that people rent from us” and are paying tenants Cook noted.Mayor Mary Ann Krause said she met last week with Charlie and Louie Hengehold, who requested that a committee be formed to study building preservation. “The discussion we had did not focus on their retaining ownership,” but rather their desire that The Mill be preserved for the community.Slaughter noted “Santa Paulans can work this out, but not in this polarized atmosphere,” and the future of The Mill must be determined.Roy Wilson told the council that he has been in communication with members of the planned Santa Paula Art Museum, and that The Mill could be the perfect venue for the museum.
Louie Hengehold conceded that the family had not paid rent over the years but “it was never our intention to defraud or cheat the citizens out of any money…” and he hopes that the issue can be resolved “in an honorable manner.”Several other speakers addressed the attraction of The Mill to tourists and historians, its use for concerts - including one urged by the city - and its potential.City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that he believed it important to “bring the parties together, but it’s also important for the community to understand the process,” since a July 1996 lease for the building. “I think it is important for the community to understand that no rent has been paid” since, he added.Nevertheless, the city understands the importance of The Mill as a landmark, which led to numerous attempts to negotiate with the family over the years. “What does that say to the rest of the Santa Paula business community,” which pays its rent, asked Bobkiewicz. “We honor the role of The Mill in the community,” but have waited too long to execute the 1998 court judgement that rent must be paid. The city’s goal is to ensure that The Mill “can continue its place as an important icon of Santa Paula,” Bobkiewicz added.Later in the meeting Krause asked that the council formally discuss formation of a committee including the Hengeholds, city staff and interested community members to address the future of The Mill at the January 3 meeting.Also in attendance at the meeting was Dave Wills of Dave’s Fresh & Fragrant Oregon Christmas Trees. Wills, a Santa Paula native, annually rents the parking lot behind the Depot and next to The Mill for tree sales, and found himself in a dispute with the city over his advocacy of the Hengehold family.Wills received a letter noting that the city lease for the property he occupies limits the purpose to tree sales only. Subsequently, Wills has been visited by SPPD officers ordering him to stop offering beer samples from the keg of his brewery’s product he keeps on the premises. Wills was also visited by a city community service official who asked him not to circulate a petition drafted by the Hengeholds regarding the dispute between the city and The Mill. Wills did not speak at the council meeting.