Palos Verdes Estates residents like their city to look spiffy. So much so, in fact, that the city has a law that makes it illegal to leave trash where the public can see it, even on trash day.
But a local couple say the city unfairly used the law to dump on them. Indeed, Clyde and Nona Emery have filed a $6.9-million lawsuit that accuses the city of harassment because police ticketed them twice for leaving trash in public view and hauled Clyde Emery, a heart surgeon, off to jail when he refused to sign one of the citations.
"It seems to us that two or three Hefty trash bags don't warrant that kind of action," said the couple's attorney, Peter Anderson.
For the most part, city officials are mum on the matter because it is in litigation. Police Chief Gary Johansen, however, told a local newspaper shortly after Clyde Emery was locked up last September that the city had received numerous complaints about the couple leaving large bags full of trash in front of their home.
And City Manager James Hendrickson says the misdemeanor tickets were given to the couple only after attempts were made to reason with them and a written warning had been issued.
That's rubbish, say the Emerys, who are letting Anderson do their talking for them.
Anderson says that to understand the couple's predicament, one has to go back to 1988 when a jury awarded the Emerys $1.7 million from the city after determining that municipal storm drains undermined the property on which the couple's home sits.
But the city is appealing the verdict, and Anderson contends the Emerys are being harassed over where they place their trash because the city wants them to settle for less money. Moreover, he says that the city knew from the outset that it was liable for the damage to the couple's property and should never have made them go through a long, costly trial.
"I think the city or some of its employees . . . don't like the Emerys very much," Anderson said. "They think the Emerys are troublemakers, (that) the Emerys are a thorn in the side of the city."
Anderson says the first ticket was issued last August. Around midnight, a squad car pulled up to the couple's home. The officer got out and told Nona Emery that she and her husband were being cited for leaving four tied bags of grass clippings in public view.
Afterward, the Emerys went on vacation for two weeks, forgetting to tell the gardener to place any future bagged clippings out of public view, Anderson says. When they returned, they were paid another visit by police.
Clyde Emery--armed with a camera and tape recorder to document the incident, went outside and was told by officers that he and his wife were being cited a second time for placing grass clippings in public view. When Clyde Emery refused to sign the citation, the officers handcuffed him and took him to jail. (The district attorney subsequently declined to prosecute him.)
Anderson says the Emerys have lived in Palos Verdes Estates for 11 years and that they routinely put their garden and lawn clippings near the curb on the night before the trash is collected.
He says it is a common practice for other residents to also put their bagged clippings on the curb. A recent poll he conducted showed that on trash day 35 homeowners within a mile of the Emerys had left clippings within public view.
One resident, Gar Goodson, says his neighbors typically adhere to the city's trash ordinance but, on occasion, even he puts a bag or two of garden clippings on the curb. Another resident, who did not want to be identified, says he lives within a stone's throw of police headquarters and sometimes puts a trash can out on the curb. No one, he says, "has blown the whistle."
"That's crazy," he said of the citations issued to the Emerys. "It sounds like overkill to me."
Anderson says the Emerys recently rejected an offer of $1.8 million by the city to settle the lawsuit over their property. When the jury rendered the $1.7-million decision in 1988, it also ruled that the property was worth $400,000 in 1983. Given the years that have elapsed, Anderson says, the Emerys believe that the property is now worth much more and that they should receive well over $2 million in compensation.
Because of the recent citations, however, they no longer are leaving their clippings on the curb. All the couple want, Anderson says, is to end their legal battles with the city and move elsewhere.