Taking No Chances : Home Turned Into Fort, to Neighbors' Dismay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Billy Davis says he and his family just want to be left alone--by intruders, by neighbors and by anyone else who would disturb their repose. So he fortified his modest two-story home east of Pico Rivera.

Davis installed barred windows, video monitors and infrared alarms. He surrounded his lot with a spiked fence and topped parts of the fence with razor wire. He covered an outdoor patio with a metal cage, put a Doberman in his yard and hired an armed security guard to park in his driveway. He erected security lighting so sensitive and intense that it illuminated his lot like a ballpark whenever a car drove past at night. One recent month he dialed the Sheriff's Department 60 times to report suspected intruders.

Davis' preoccupation with security has made some neighbors in the unincorporated tract of modest homes feel insecure--about Davis. The mutual discomfort has resulted in a dispute over property and privacy rights that pits one property owner against his neighbors.

The Davis homestead "certainly doesn't conform with the rest of the neighborhood," said Barbara Polson, who, like other residents, said Davis' remodeling has lowered the value of surrounding homes.

The house also gives her and others the creeps. "It's intimidating," she said. "And we're beginning to wonder what's next."

Polson and other residents formed a neighborhood association to take action against the Davis residence. They have sent county agencies dozens of complaint letters. In response, county inspectors have cited the Davises for having a fence that protrudes onto land reserved for a public sidewalk. Other violation notices are being considered, officials said.

Billy Davis, who lives with his wife, Fyrn, and mother, Alene, countered by filing complaints against some of his neighbors for alleged zoning violations. He has also hired an attorney, Neil Falley.

"The Davises want to be secure in their house like everybody else in Los Angeles County," Falley said. "Everybody talks about a right to privacy. They wish to be included, period."

At recent community meetings with county officials, however, neighbors contended that the Davises have stepped on the rights of other residents.

The Davises have installed 26 outdoor 500-watt lights, which flood into nearby living rooms and bedrooms, residents said. Then there's the noise: alarm bells and sirens tested or triggered in the middle of the night, and pre-dawn hammering, digging and sawing for the construction of security systems.

Falley conceded that the Davises have erected fortifications and tested alarms in the middle of the night. Hair-trigger sensors also have activated lights and alarms at odd hours.

"When you have all these sensors, if a bat flew by they would all go off," Falley said. The family is trying to adjust the sensors and has ended pre-dawn home-improvement efforts, he said.

Falley added that he suspects some neighbors of intentionally triggering the alarms to upset the Davises, who have a real fear of intruders.

By their own admission, the Davises frequently dial the Sheriff's Department for help.

"For awhile, they called almost daily," said a deputy, who asked not to be named. "It was always some person coming to break in and deputies would respond in a minute or two and no one would be there."

The department has not charged the Davises with filing false police reports because family members apparently believe everything they report, the deputy said. "They stay up all night and sleep during the day because they are worried they are being stalked."

In a brief interview, Fyrn Davis spoke of a maniac who, for months, regularly threw himself against the fence and growled like an animal.

Billy Davis nodded and added: "We have too many criminal activities out here."

The neighborhood, a mixture of two- and three-bedroom middle-class homes, sits in the shadow of the 605 Freeway. There are some gang members and graffiti taggers in the neighborhood, but the crime rate is no worse than in other nearby middle-class areas, deputies said.

Two blocks away, many houses along the busier roads have barred windows or doors. Some houses have fences. But nothing compares to security at the Davis domicile.

A sheriff's deputy who said he has been inside described the house as more secure than a jail. "It's more fortified than a rock cocaine house that officers use a tank to get in," the deputy said. "It's kind of sad how scared a person can be."

Because Billy Davis won't discuss what he does for a living, deputies made a point of telling neighbors that the Davises are not known to be involved in any illegal activities.

"They spent a ton of money on the security system," said attorney Falley, who declined to say how much. "I think they were oversold on security by a bunch of unscrupulous contractors.

"They are kind of country people," he added. "They come from a small town. I don't think they researched this move thoroughly."

The neighbors remain dissatisfied with such explanations, however, and discussion about the Davises dominated the last three meetings of the Whittier Downs Homeowners Assn. At one assembly, in resident Martin Leiva's small living room, 25 neighbors complained to sheriff's officers and an aide to county Supervisor Gloria Molina.

"The property sticks out," conceded Molina aide Carrie Sutkin, who admitted she would not feel comfortable living next door. On the other hand, "people have property rights and that's what made this country great," she said.

Some residents said they want the Davises to move. Sutkin said the county would not be involved in forcing the family to relocate, but would enforce zoning laws.

The Davises will have to move their fence back, for example. And the family probably will have to take down the 18-foot light standards installed just inside the fence. The lights were erected without permits and tower above the legal height limit of 3.5 feet.

"Put 'em in jail if they don't follow the law," shouted one woman who has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years.

It's not that simple, officials explained. Prosecuting zoning violations against obstinate homeowners can take years, they said. The maximum penalty for a code violation is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"I understand this is a major problem for you," Deputy Dist. Atty. William Woods told residents. "But for the district attorney's office, it's not a major problem. We've got rapes. We've got murders."

Bill Dobrenen, who rents out the home next to the Davises, complained that he cannot keep tenants. "Who's going to pay $1,000 a month to live next to them?"

The Davises came from Corning, Calif., a town of 6,000 sustained by farming, logging mills and an olive factory. Billy's wife, Fyrn, is remembered as a prominent citizen.

With her first husband, she built one of the region's most prosperous businesses, a 24-hour truck stop, restaurant and gas station complex near Interstate 5, according to family members and city officials.

After her first husband died in a plane crash, she married Ray Anchordoguy, a longtime resident and prosperous rancher. According to Anchordoguy and others, Fyrn was a shrewd businesswoman and a devout Christian who entertained missionaries and held prayer meetings.

But somehow, that life unraveled. Bankers padlocked the truck stop and seized the family home because of unpaid debts, said William Conway, bankruptcy trustee for the truck stop complex. What happened to all the assets has not been resolved. Meanwhile, Fyrn left Anchordoguy for Davis, who used to come to the truck stop.

Community correspondent Kirsten Lee Swartz contributed to this story.

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