Grass Valley enforces its good neighbor policy

The Grass Valley Police Department has made news in recent weeks with a series of high-profile enforcement actions at 322 Buena Vista St., but that is not the only residence on its radar.

That house, and several others like it, have been linked to allegations of drug use and theft — both of which were identified as high-enforcement priorities in this year’s Citizen Attitude Survey conducted by the police department.

“We have a list of residences and other locations throughout the city that have suspected drug trafficking or use going on that are negatively impacting the neighborhoods,” Mayor Dan Miller told The Union.

“We’re going to investigate,” Miller added. “And if it’s true, we’re going to do everything possible to shut down those houses.”

The city’s list is not easy to get on. It requires a pattern of ongoing calls for service from the neighbors.

“It usually involves the trafficking, sale and use of narcotics,” said Grass Valley Police Sgt. Steve Johnson.

“That’s what brings in a constant flow of people and a high volume of calls.”

Taking drugs (and dealers) off the street can have a positive impact. Officers say it reduces related crimes, such as burglary and theft.

But suspects make bail — and when they get out of jail, they go back to the residences in question.

If arresting people isn’t enough, the city can invoke the Responsible Property Owner Ordinance.

“Most people refer to it as the good neighbor policy,” said Det. Jeff Berns, the police department’s point man for problem houses.

“The municipal code spells out that property owners are responsible for their tenants.”

After a single address has received four calls for service in a 12-month period, the Responsible Property Owner Ordinance allows the city to impose $2,000 in fines every time a neighbor calls the cops.

Half for the tenant, half for the owner.

“That gets the owner’s attention,” Berns said.

So far, however, the city says it hasn’t been necessary to impose those fines on a landlord.

Most of the homes on the city’s list are rentals. In many cases, the landlord lives out of town. They may be totally unaware of existing conflicts between their tenant and the neighbors — or the involvement of law enforcement.

Once the landlord finds out about the problems associated with the tenant and the fines that can be imposed against them as a result of those problems, they typically take action.

“Every property owner has evicted the tenant, without fail,” Berns said.

But sometimes they come back, as was the case with a problem residence on the 100 block of Maryland Drive.

“After they were evicted, they came back,” said neighbor Zoe Odom.

“You would see candles and flashlights in the middle of the night. They broke back in and they were squatting.”

Neighbors say that when the house was occupied, it was a nightmare. There was constant traffic at all hours, arguments, and even physical altercations.

“They had people over here, out in the street, fighting. That’s why we put this door on,” Odom said, pointing to the metal security door protecting the entry to her home.

“It was god-awful,” she said. “I’m glad they’re gone.”

In addition to drugs and violence, there were also serious issues with solid waste. Garbage accumulated in the back yard. More was stored on the balcony.

The home’s interior also sustained serious, permanent damage that will be costly to fix.

“That building’s really disgusting,” Odom said.

“When it dries out, you can see the mold on the outside of the building.

“We got kids,” she added.

“I’ve got two babies living in this house, and you don’t want them breathing that stuff.”

That residence on Maryland Drive is vacant now and has been for roughly a year.

Bob Richardson, Grass Valley’s city manager, told The Union that at least four of the houses on the city’s list have “gone dark” in recent months.

Miller tells The Union that two more were added in the last week.

“The real bad ones we’ve been able to deal with,” Johnson said.

“You never know, though, when another will pop up.”

To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, send emails to dbrooksher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Apr 7, 2014 12:00AM Published Apr 8, 2014 02:14PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.