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Builder’s Dirt Pile Blamed for Infestation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The rodent and reptile count is startling: 78 mice in one home, three rats in a garage, snakes slithering into bathrooms, living rooms and back yards.

Newbury Park residents blame the infestation on a four-acre pile of dirt stockpiled by developers 50 yards from their homes. They say the mini-mountain is destroying their property values, endangering their toddlers and filling their homes with dust.

Armed with photos of the dirt, tales of menacing rattlesnakes and accompanied by an attorney, residents came to Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to complain and demand that the hill be moved.

Calling it a public nuisance, attorney Jan Chatten-Brown told city officials it is their responsibility to get rid of the pile, which developers left after excavating a debris basin.

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“I strongly urge you do so to avoid the potential for liability,” said Chatten-Brown, who has been retained by a group of about 50 homeowners calling themselves Residents for Relief.

“Were I the city attorney, I would be urging the council to abate the nuisance,” Chatten-Brown said. “The developers have, if not the blessing of, then the acquiescence of the city.”

But city officials say they approved a permit allowing the pile at the site and can’t ask the developers, Operating Engineers, to move it until April, well into the rainy season. Although the dirt is covered with a tarp and sandbags, residents fear heavy rains could turn it into a moving disaster.

“It’s our La Conchita waiting to happen,” said resident Leroy Ward, who told council members he believes he cannot interest buyers in his house because of the unsightly hill behind it.

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City Atty. Mark Sellers said Operating Engineers asked for and received a permit to temporarily put the dirt on an empty tract owned by Courtly Homes, the other developer building housing sites at Dos Vientos.

The permit gives Operating Engineers until August to remove the stockpile, but in a letter to homeowners, company officials said they will make every effort to remove it by April. City Councilman Andy Fox said he wants to hold the company to that promise.

“It is going to move in April,” Fox said. “I will hold them to that. There will be no exemptions, there will be no extensions.”

Fox said he toured the area and was shocked at what a mess the dirt pile has created.

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“If it was my house I think I’d look at it as a lot more than an inconvenience,” he said.

He asked the developer to consider installing a heavy metal fence made of thick mesh around the pile to cut down on the rodent migration.

“It may not completely stop them, but it is going to slow them down,” Fox said.

Operating Engineers’ officials told the council they will look into installing the fence.

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Not only were the developers chastised by residents over the dirt pile, on Tuesday night they lost a bid to rezone a seven-acre parcel for development.

The parcel was intended to be used as an equestrian center, but turned out to be far too small to accommodate horses and riding facilities. Instead, Operating Engineers helped relocate the Two Winds equestrian center across the street to land owned jointly by the park district and city.

Having paid for the move, the developer hoped to get permission to build luxury houses on the seven-acre parcel. In exchange for the rezoning, the company also offered to link horse trails through the housing tract--property the developer has made off-limits to riders.

But the council rejected the company’s request in a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Judy Lazar dissenting. “I would like to ask the Operating Engineers not to take this out on the equestrians,” Fox said. “They are innocent here.”

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Operating Engineers’ attorney, Wayne Jett, said equestrians will eventually have use of a master trail through the development, but that no special provisions would be made to provide them with trails in the meantime.

“In all due respect, we ought to be the last ones being asked not to hurt the equestrians,” Jett said. “We have put in a lot of money on them while everyone else just stood around wringing their hands.”


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