A Camarillo woman who once served on the town's beautification committee could lose her home to a city demolition crew unless by Monday she can get rid of a mountain of garbage and debris that, in at least one room, is piled to within a foot of the ceiling.
Kelton Roberts, 63, whose aging duplex house is a block from an upscale shopping center, has been camping for the last several years under a tarpaulin outside of the home because the structure has grown so decrepit and full of trash, city and county officials said.
"She understands she has work to do to make the place liveable," said Dick Paddock, a Ventura County building and safety supervisor who also serves as a Camarillo building official. "But my general impression is that she is perfectly satisfied to keep things the way they are and would rather have all of us just leave her alone."
Camarillo Beautiful Member
Roberts, who in the 1960s regularly attended Camarillo City Council meetings and was a member of Camarillo Beautiful, declined to be interviewed.
Despite her reclusive behavior, Roberts' plight has generated an outpouring of community support in recent weeks from sympathetic residents eager to help clear the mess before demolition crews are called.
Led by Steve Clubb, manager of the meat department at the nearby Vons supermarket, a team of 10 volunteers worked two weekends ago to clear the jungle-like front yard of dead foliage and heaps of litter.
"I felt sorry for her," Clubb said. "All I could picture was that if my mother were in this position, I would want somebody to come forward."
But when Clubb offered to help haul away the trash that has been accumulating for 20 years inside the one-story stucco structure, Roberts refused.
"She said she was tired of fretting about it," Clubb said. "She started crying and said it just wasn't worth the effort that people were putting out for her."
City officials, who acknowledge that they have been aware of problems at Roberts' home for eight years, said an influx of complaints prompted new and more detailed inspections early this year.
After several verbal warnings to clear the rubbish, Roberts was cited on April 25 and told the house would be demolished if she did not comply within 30 days. Roberts challenged the order before the Ventura County Building Appeals Board, which agreed to postpone the deadline until July 25.
City officials granted what they say was the last extension when they agreed last week to postpone final inspection of the structure until Aug. 1. If significant progress has not been made, they will seek a court order for its demolition.
"We've tried to cooperate with her from the beginning," Paddock said. "She's in possession of her faculties and normal in most respects. She's just chosen to drop out of things."
Indeed, neighbors say that Roberts, who has lived in the Mobil Avenue house near the Ventura Freeway since 1954, has rarely ventured out since her husband's death in the mid-1960s.
A son, Richard, who is stationed at a U.S. Coast Guard base in San Francisco, has recently driven down on weekends to help clean, but neighbors say the house is still an eyesore.
Complained Last Year
"I just can't understand how people can live like that," said Angela Baroni, a neighbor whose husband, Richard, began complaining to Camarillo officials last year. "She doesn't bother anyone. But I don't feel sorry for her."
Roberts, a plump woman who can occasionally be spotted pruning the bougainvilleas that grow near the front of the house, has been living without plumbing, gas or running water, officials say.
When they inspected the house earlier this year, wearing protective clothing and dust masks, they found garbage and personal belongings piled so high that kitchen and bathroom fixtures had been completely obscured.
Roberts was ordered last month to rent a portable outhouse, which is now positioned on the front lawn.
"Nausea and disbelief," Paddock said of his first reaction to the house's interior.
Began 20 Years Ago
The condition apparently began building up at least 20 years ago, say longtime neighbors, who recall the facade as always being covered with ivy and sequestered behind a wall of dying foliage.
Gerry Olsen, public relations director at Moorpark College, said that he inspected the house in the 1960s while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Camarillo.
"There was about three feet of rubbish and different types of material stacked throughout the house," Olsen said. "It was unusual then and it is unusual now."