“I would so love to tell that bitch to go fuck herself.”
Gerry Kehoe, the owner of the Oldtown Salinas building that burned Feb. 13 in a fire that officials are calling suspicious, could use some smarter advisers around him. His current ones aren’t doing him any good.
On Feb. 11, two days before the fire, I received the response to a Public Records Act request made with the city of Salinas that showed officials had long been concerned about illegal construction at the building, including unpermitted asbestos abatement and removal. I emailed Kehoe Tuesday to ask for comment, and in response, Salinas realtor and Kehoe lackey Rick Phinney accidentally sent me an email he meant for Kehoe. It reads as follows: “I would so love to tell that bitch to go fuck herself.”
The documents I obtained included an email from Mike Sheehan, a compliance coordinator with the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, to Salinas Building Official Joey DeSante. In that Feb. 2 email, Sheehan expressed concern about the cleanup of the asbestos contamination that happened “from the unauthorized renovation and asbestos disturbance” at the iconic Bruhn Building.
While Sheehan told DeSante the initial cleanup the Air District required of Kehoe was satisfactory, much asbestos remained in the building. Sheehan said a full and thorough inspection of the remaining asbestos should happen before Kehoe could get any other permits from the city.
Sheehan also expressed concern that unpermitted demolition in the building, which included cutting out a huge section of roofing and a support beam, may have left the building destabilized. He recommended an architectural review to make sure the roof was supported.
When the Bruhn Building burned, it burned spectacularly. Fireballs shot in the air and windows exploded onto the street. The roof collapsed in a fire that lasted two days and burned so hot that Deputy Fire Chief Brett Loomis put a high-rise strike team from San Francisco on call. Firefighters thought the Rabobank Building and everything else on the block was going to go up. Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter told me he was afraid that when it was over, he was going to stand at the intersection of Alisal and Main and tell people, “This is where the 300 block of Main Street used to be.”
Officials haven’t yet identified a cause of the fire, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is investigating. On Wednesday, they brought in dogs to search for cadavers and accelerants.
In an email, Kehoe tells me it’s possible homeless squatters started the fire. But witnesses report seeing four men run out the back after the fire started, pausing to padlock the door. Do squatters have keys?
My email exchange with Kehoe started civilly. He said he had documents proving there was no asbestos in the building. I told him the Air District disputed their veracity and that District Attorney Dean Flippo launched an investigation — on Jan. 27, three weeks before the fire — after the Air District presented documents about the alleged illegal removal and dumping of asbestos during the unpermitted midnight construction work Kehoe’s crews performed. That ended last February, when I called the city to ask about the Bruhn permits and they red-tagged the building and brought in the Air District.
Then the emails turned nasty. Kehoe questioned my reporting abilities as I questioned his tactics. And I suggested that instead of worrying about my reporting, he should worry about the DA’s investigation. That’s where Phinney came in. A second email he accidentally sent told Kehoe: “As they say in Ireland, ‘fuk her.’”
Actually, wouldn’t it be more like “fook her?”
I gave Phinney my cell phone number and invited him to use it. I also offered to teach him how to use email. So far, he hasn’t availed himself of the opportunity.
Phinney sent a final email, this time meant for me, in which he accused me of trying to tear down the Kehoe name by accusing him of arson, which I’ve never done — fire offcials have called the fire suspicious, but they don’t yet know who set it. And a deliberate arson would make zero sense, because Kehoe had no insurance on the place.
Like I said, Kehoe needs smarter people around him.
Adendum: This piece ran as my column in the Feb. 19 Monterey County Weekly, where I am editor. The day it ran, Mr. Phinney called Weekly staff photographer Nic Coury an “asshole” and told him to stop shooting photos on private property; Mr. Coury, at the time, was standing on a public street.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com