Watch CBS News

Church, stores forced out of Woodland mall after owners fail to comply with fire code: "That is unjust"

Woodland church, stores forced out of mall after owners fail to comply with fire code
Woodland church, stores forced out of mall after owners fail to comply with fire code 02:52

WOODLAND -- A Woodland church with a 20-year lease is being forced to permanently close its doors as soon as Saturday.

"As soon as it's boarded up, we cannot enter," Pastor Raul Castillo said.

Grace and New Hope Ministries has rented space since 2017 at the Woodland County Fair Mall, now a ghost town and almost empty of all its tenants.

Church leaders say they have a right to stay or be better-taken care of by the mall's ownership, calling this a breach of contract.

Their lease is valid through 2037. Castillo said he and his father constructed the church with their own hands out of the empty mall space.

"We built all these walls. None of this was here," said Castillo, showing CBS13 their church. "We built offices, bathrooms, Sunday school rooms."

Castillo's father was fighting a losing battle with colon cancer but remained focused on the vision of the church.

"He would go do chemotherapy, come back here and build," Castillo said.

Castillo lost his father in 2019 and now could lose the church where they created a community of bilingual believers together.

"All we want to do is just worship in peace," Castillo said. "I was a meth addict for 18 years. My dad's prayers and this ministry saved me, you know? And I want to do that for other people."

The Woodland Fire Department sent a notice to vacate to mall ownership that is dated Jan. 18, 2024. The letter details that the mall was not in compliance with fire code and that serious violations were found in the building.

"The Woodland Fire Department has consistently encouraged Team Rise to adhere to the Fire Code since being made aware of the suppression system's failure on December 8, 2023, leading to the initiation of a fire watch."

Fire Chief Eric Zane wrote in the notice that mall ownership was made aware it would be required to conduct a 24/7 fire watch for the safety of those inside the building.

Zane writes that fire watch forms were incomplete and included entire days missing.

"It is evident there is no intention to comply with the Fire Code. The County Fair Mall has not had a consistent fire watch since December 27, 2023," Zane wrote.

Castillo said he received emails from the mall's owner this week asking him to vacate immediately.

"That is unjust," said Castillo, who says it is still not clear exactly when they will be forced to be out. "The Fire Marshal told me it needs to be boarded up this weekend."

Castillo said the mall's owner offered to buy him out of their 20-year lease for $200,000. He added that the owner wants to subtract eight months of rent she claims the church did not pay, which Castillo disputed. This would bring the buyout down to around $157,000, according to Castillo.

"We paid it. We have proof we paid it. Just cash the checks," he said.

Castillo said he would not accept a dollar less than $200,000, having spent nearly $400,000 to build their church space.

"Now, I have to put my faith into action," he said.

The mall's JCPenny store is the only business allowed to stay open. Castillo told CBS13 that the department store's manager made him aware that fire upgrades were made only on JCPenny's side of the building. The rest of the mall would have to vacate.

Castillo questioned why the same safety upgrades were not made on his side of the building, even temporarily, so they could find somewhere new to move. He feels it violates their lease agreement.

"If I rent a house and it's condemned, the landlord still has to find somewhere else for me to go," he said.

Next door to JCPenny is the only other remaining store open in the County Fair Mall: Nail Tech Salon. Friday, owner Eddie Hoang and his staff served their last customers while packing up their shop for good.

"We have no choice," said Hoang, who says he was given a 30-day notice to leave.

He said he had operated a successful nail salon in the mall for seven years.

Neither Hoang nor Castillo have any place to relocate to now that they have been forced out of the mall, and it's impacting their livelihood and their sense of community.

"It makes me feel a little helpless, you know?" Castillo said.

CBS13 approached mall management at their office on Friday afternoon and was abruptly told "no comment" multiple times by the manager on site. When CBS13 tried to ask the manager a question, he again responded, "No comment. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

No response to this story was provided by the mall management or its ownership.

There is no answer as to when exactly the mall's owner was made aware of the fire code issues, when they made their remaining tenants aware their safety was at risk, and when exactly the mall will be boarded up.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.