“It’s almost like zombies,” DeAnna Williams said. “It’s gotten to a point where no one feels safe here.”
Williams lives across the street from 322 Buena Vista St. in Grass Valley. She says her family has been in that neighborhood for almost 90 years. It’s a nice place — but things started to change in 2012, when her neighbor passed away, she said.
“It’s a sad story. His mother, Florence, was one of the grande dames of our neighborhood,” Williams said. “Once she passed away, her eldest son Thomas showed up with a couple of his friends, and from that moment I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same.”
The Grass Valley Police Department says they received at least 34 calls for service in February and March, with a total of 15 arrests.
There have reportedly been some serious problems. People have been seen shooting up on the curb.
Neighborhood dogs have gotten sick, presumably from something thrown over the fence.
Garbage is piling up in the backyard. The post office will no longer deliver mail due to the strong stench, she said.
“All of the cars on this street have been ransacked at least once,” Williams said.
“My neighbors have had some significant thefts. Very expensive tools have been stolen.”
Two of the people living at 322 Buena Vista are on probation, and the terms of their probation include a search clause.
That means law enforcement officers can search the home without a warrant.
They raided the home three times this week.
“There was a complaint of a speeding vehicle, and the person that was speeding was visiting that residence,” said Chief John Foster, with the Grass Valley Police Department.
“Once we were there we decided to do a probation search.”
During that search, three individuals were arrested on charges including possession of drugs and stolen property.
“As you can see, every time we go in there, we make several arrests,” added Sgt. Steve Johnson. “We’re going to keep doing this until those tenants are removed.”
In addition to neighbor complaints, the school next door is also a point of concern. The Park Avenue Alternative Education Site, which includes Silver Springs High School, is directly adjacent to 322 Buena Vista.
“I don’t have any reason to believe my kids have been in contact with that house,” said Principal Marty Mathiesen. “In fact I’m very sure.”
“We’re pretty secure over there with locked gates and high fences,” Mathiesen said. “Kids don’t get in and out that way, so it’s not a place where we have a propensity for interaction.”
He was not aware of any major thefts on campus, but he says someone did try to steal electricity at one point.
“Our maintenance guy found a cord put through the fence and plugged into our facility,” Mathiesen said. “We took care of that right away and alerted police.”
That was shortly after the current residents moved in more than a year ago. At that time, neighbors started calling in complaints on a regular basis.
“Nobody took us seriously when this started happening 18 months ago,” Williams said. “They started treating us like we were a nuisance.”
“Grass Valley dispatchers actually gave us a hard time when we called and complained about the drug activity,” she added.
Things are different now.
Law enforcement has made this a high priority; other agencies have gotten involved.
The situation took a turn earlier this year when Councilman Jason Fouyer and Bob Richardson, Grass Valley’s new city manager, staged a neighborhood meeting.
“I would say that the moment Bob Richardson stepped into the situation, everything changed,” Williams said.
Richardson, for his part, has been reluctant to take credit.
“I played a very minor role in this,” Richardson told The Union earlier this week. “Our job is to find the tools to help the police department get a handle on this property.”
Since he got involved, solid waste, environmental health and child protective services have all been brought into play.
The city attorney has also played a part, and they’re coordinating efforts with the bank that owns the property.
There have been court proceedings to evict the residents, and Richardson says that there’s a court order requiring all occupants to be out in less than two weeks.
The city’s latest tactic is an attempt to red-tag the residence, which might clear the house out faster than an eviction.
“We had our building department out to see if this is indeed still a safe place for people to inhabit,” Richardson said.
If successful, that plan will make the neighbors happy.
Once the house is empty, they say they’re planning a block party.
“All my neighbors are counting down,” DeAnna Johnson said.
“We’re going to get a permit and have a Cinco de Mayo celebration.”
She says they’re also planning to do some guerilla landscaping so the yard stays pretty after the house is abandoned.
The Union tried to contact the residents of 322 Buena Vista St., Friday afternoon.
The woman who answered the door identified herself as a relative of the property owner, just in town to help them move out.
“Everybody that lives here is locked up,” she said.
Dogs and small children could be heard inside the residence.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
“As you can see, every time we go in there we make several arrests. We’re going to keep doing this until those tenants are removed.”
Sgt. Steve Johnson
Grass Valley Police Department