COSTA MESA : City Acts to Clean Up an Eyesore

Edith Randall lives with her son Ruben Smith, a dozen Pekingese dogs and a canary in her pink Victorian house on Orange Avenue.

Outside, her carefully cultivated roses are hidden by hundreds of unopened eight-track tapes. Dozens of mangled bicycles, rusted car doors, paint cans, old couches, tools and broken-down cars also clutter her yard. Rats wander around the heaps.

For more than 20 years, this home with a white picket fence has been the neighborhood eyesore, a junkyard that residents have wanted cleaned. On Monday, their request was answered when the City Council, in an unusual move, declared the property a public nuisance. Randall was ordered to remove the junk or face possible criminal charges.

But while some of the piles of picture frames and broken bikes are hers, she admits, most of the trash belongs to her son. In fact, city officials point to Smith as the culprit behind the junk, calling him a "pack rat" who is compelled to collect trash.

Since 1974, city officials have been regularly coming to the house on Orange Avenue to respond to residents' complaints. One neighbor, who asked not to be named, said he has watched as the trash heap grow out of control.

"It has always been just horrible," the resident said. "I don't even know where he gets it."

The situation came to a head earlier this year when neighbors complained to city officials that the trash was attracting rats. That, combined with the potential for fire, forced the city to take action.

"If in fact a fire was to kindle, it would be very hard to get in there," Fire Marshall Tom McDuff told the council. "If there is a fire, Edith will not be able to get out."

City officials also said a fire could engulf neighbors' homes.

McDuff said Randall "is a wonderful woman who deserves to have her property cleaned up."

But her son said that he is being targeted by the city unfairly.

"Tom, the fireman, said how more than 100 complaints had been made by neighbors, but they never said anything to me," Smith said as he loaded a truck with debris from a shack he had torn down. "We clean it up every year after the rainy season."

Randall, who has lived in the house for more than 50 years, said she wants the yard cleaned up so she can plant more roses.

"It is my home. . . . I've bought it and this is where I would like to stay," she said, adding that she has 98 rose bushes ready for planting.

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