Long Beach officials have given the landlord of 12 alleged crack houses 70 days to clean up his buildings before they take legal action to shut them down.
The City Council on Tuesday declared David Gomez's property a public nuisance and ordered him to reappear before the council Aug. 4. If Gomez has not evicted his tenants and made ample progress to clean up the properties, the city attorney can request that the courts deny him use of his property for up to a year.
Police estimate that between Jan. 1, 1990, and April 30, 1992, officers responded to more than 2,400 calls at Gomez's 67 properties citywide and made 175 drug-related arrests.
At 12 of his properties, police responded to more than 1,200 calls and made 134 drug-related arrests. Problems there have cost the Police Department more than $217,000 or 6,204 hours of work, said Sharon J. Jackson, coordinator of the Long Beach Police Department's drug investigation section.
The houses are used by crack-cocaine users or pushers, Jackson said.
Six of the houses are within 1,000 feet of Stevenson Elementary or Lincoln Elementary schools, she said.
Luis Pinel of the Hispanic Apartment Management Assn. was recently hired to manage the properties. He and Gomez asked for 120 days to clean up the houses but questioned the Police Department's description of the problem.
"We're not denying that there are problems on those properties, but those numbers cannot be correct," Pinel said.
Gomez has made efforts to clean up his properties, Pinel said, noting that last year he spent nine months evicting 32 people from one house.
"Most of the problems I inherited when I bought the buildings," Gomez said.
The city passed a law in late 1989 that allows officials to shut down buildings in which they suspect drugs are being used or sold. The city first holds a hearing to allow the landlord and neighbors to testify.
The first hearing in 1990 concerned three properties, including one owned by Gomez. Another hearing in 1991 involved just one property. None of the buildings have been closed down.
"This was the biggest (case) in terms of the amount of property owned," Jackson said.
Gomez's properties are in five council members' districts, and they warned him Tuesday that he had not heard the last from them.
"I have 50,000 constituents," said Councilman Evan Anderson Braude. "And your buildings have taken up more time than all of the other buildings in my district."
Added Councilman Ray Grabinski: "Five of your properties are in my new district. I promise you, there better be some new effort."
Gomez's neighbors complained to the council about drug sales and shootings that have plagued their residential streets for two years.
"My neighbors are under siege by those who peddle death," said Robert Fox, president of the Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Assn.
Vinh Tran, a mechanic who lives on Elm Avenue, a block from one of Gomez's properties, told the council that crime is penetrating the surrounding neighborhoods.
"Every time I lay my tools down, they're gone. I come home at night and (drug users) are busting into cars," Tran said.
Norman LeBeau owns a building next door to a Gomez property on Lime Avenue. He told the council that 45 people live in two one-bedroom units there.
One woman, a real estate agent, testified in Gomez's favor. She said landlords are not to blame for the city's drug problem.