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Barrister Bits - Empowering Your Neighborhood

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Barrister Bits - Empowering Your Neighborhood

by Debra A. Newby

DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Dear Debra: 

We live in the country on a quiet, family-oriented street, except for one eyesore home – a “tweaker” house with “customers” coming and going all hours of day and night, loud parties, piles of trash oozing past their fence onto the street, and a junky vehicle that they move 3 feet this way, then three feet that way every now and then just so it doesn’t look abandoned. Their guests have even broken into our cars and stolen things. You get the picture. We need help…what can we do? 

  Signed: Enough is Enough

Dear Enough: 

Like the tentacles of the octopus, your question has many moving parts. The heart of your question touches upon not-so-neighborly neighbors. Unfortunately, there are some behaviors that are hard to tolerate by some, such as a trashy yard or bad taste in music that is played all day long. Sure, such tactics get on our nerves, but it may not be illegal, and thus your recourse is limited. 

 But, your own vehicles being broken into and illegal drug activity a stone’s throw from innocent children in your neighborhood? Certainly, that is a call for action. Below are some practical solutions for your consideration:

1) Form a Neighborhood Watch Group. The more eyes, the better. Formalize the Neighborhood Watch Group by meeting regularly and creating a rotation-type watch so there is a concerted effort to keep your neighborhood safe. I know that our own John Haggard at Sophie’s Cellars years ago was instrumental in forming the Monte Rio Watch Group. He may have some friendly tips for you (plus his Duncans Mills wine shop sells and serves great wines and cheeses). 

2) Involve the Sheriff’s Department: You mentioned you are in unincorporated Sonoma County, so the law enforcement domain falls upon the Sheriff’s Office. Guerneville houses a Sheriff’s substation (707-869-0202) or you can call Dispatch at 707-565-2121 to report suspicious or illegal activity. I spoke to a deputy sheriff about your issue, and was told that if illegal or suspicious activity is called in, a deputy sheriff can be dispatched to the scene. If a deputy sheriff is in the area, it may only take a few minutes. If the officer is on call in Sea Ranch or the backroads of Rio Nido, it may take longer of course. 

Odds are the activity may be over by the time the deputy Sheriff arrives, so it would be helpful for you or your watch group to note the license plate(s), vehicle descriptions, personal identification marks of the “suspects” for their investigation. I was also told that if the tweaker house has a steady group of customers, that the matter can be referred to and investigated by one of the five detectives on the Narcotics Team who specialize in “drug homes”. Help the Sheriff’s Department build the case by giving them facts. Bottom line: Pay attention, gather facts, and call the Sheriff. 

3)  Report the Abandoned Vehicle: This gets tricky. If a vehicle is abandoned on a roadway or public thoroughfare, that will likely fall within the jurisdiction of the CHP and you can call 707-551-4100 to report an abandoned vehicle. If the vehicle is abandoned on private property” you can call the Sheriff’s Abandoned Vehicle Abatement (“AVA”) Program at 707-565-7395. Be prepared to leave a message that describes the vehicle (make, model and color), the license plate and location of the vehicle.  The AVA Program is run by volunteers that work only one day a week (typically Tuesdays) and they tow approximately 150 abandoned vehicles a year in Sonoma County. The volunteers will send out a 10 day Notice of Intent to Abate to the Owner of record with the DMV. If no hearing is requested after 10 days and the vehicle is still there, it will be towed. 

Now, if your neighbor’s car is on his or her private property, your options may be limited. Leaving junky cars in a front yard may not qualify as an “abandoned vehicle”, but it may qualify as a “nuisance”, which is another topic for another time. 

I truly wish I could wave a magic wand and dissolve the tensions in your family- oriented neighborhood, with a true family dynamic of one bad apple in the bunch. Sadly, I cannot. But I can empower you by encouraging you to engage your other concerned neighbors, form the Neighborhood Watch Group, and develop a friendly and consistent rapport with the deputy sheriffs on duty. It takes a team. Don’t give up.

Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 34 years. She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records). Debra can be reached via email (debra@newbylawoffice.com), phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202). 

Comments:

Debra, Thanks for your article. As someone who has been involved in this probably longer and more actively than anyone else, I would like to add some suggestions. Although your suggestions are good ones, the reality is something different. Unfortunately the county is not very responsive. It takes continual follow-up and persistence to get anything done, and usually that means months and years instead of days or weeks. I live on Starrett Hill and used to have a tweaker house down the road from me. I have also gotten most of the abandoned vehicles off of Starrett Hill, and also out of the Monte Rio Park & Ride near the Fire house. I am now focusing on the neighborhood near Village Inn. 

The primary group they should be involved with is Monte Rio Community Alliance. If they live in Guerneville, it would be Guerneville Community Alliance. Both are on the web and also on Facebook.

They should also come to the Candidates Forum at the MR Community Center on May 6 at 6pm and speak up. 

As for "inoperable vehicles" in yards, I was told by PRMD that unlike in Sacramento, where I have lived and you must have inoperable vehicles behind a fence (not visible), in Sonoma the only place you can have an inoperable vehicle is inside a garage. 

As for trash (household garbage), I have had better response times with reporting it to Sonoma County Dept of Health. They will write a letter to the property owner and will follow-up.

I would also recommend them joining Nextdoor.com

If they want to contact me, please feel free to pass on my email address.

Hope to meet you in person soon. I enjoy reading your columns in the Gazette.

Best Regards,
Chuck Ramsey, President, Monte Rio Community Alliance