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A Problem Solved by Neighbors

When neighbors don’t keep up their property, unrest can rule the subdivision. Complaints can range from the sniffing of homeowners over a choice of paint colors to more serious grievances that result in city sanctions arising from unsafe or unsanitary conditions. In Anaheim, some people who looked to break through bureaucratic conflict have made a difference. The outcome stands as an example for other neighborhoods.

Last weekend, an Anaheim man facing jail time because of his unsightly lawn got an assist from people who were concerned. The controversy dates to 1996, when code enforcement officers told Raman Patel to get his yard in order. That required putting in landscaping, painting the garage and gates and putting his trash out of sight. The city says he had plenty of time to do all this, and he actually served 30 days in jail in 1997 for noncompliance. Patel, who suffered a stroke two years ago, can’t speak and maintains that he tried to keep his yard in shape, but that the sprinklers he put in were vandalized, and the lawn he seeded was poisoned.

The city has been equally adamant and recently charged him with violating his probation, which required him to keep his yard in compliance. A court appearance was scheduled for him this week to decide whether the probation should be revoked.

Circumventing this impasse seems to have been a simple matter for Rick Cleveland of Anaheim and some neighborly people from near and far who answered his call to help get the yard in order. The group painted Patel’s garage and fence and built an enclosure for his garbage cans. The next step is an effort to negotiate with neighborhood merchants for sprinkler parts and more seed.

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The city should recognize these efforts and facilitate long-term solutions. There seems little point in sending a disabled man back to jail when progress has been made, and clearly the solutions don’t seem all that complicated. In fact, Councilman Tom Tait is asking some good questions about why jail for such violations is preferable to a monetary citation. It would be far better for the city to get the improvements made and then extract a penalty to pay for them.

Elsewhere in Orange County, neighborhood activism has helped resolve long-standing community conflicts. Jim Walker, a neighborhood organizer who directs Neighborhood Net-Works in Santa Ana and a veteran of neighborhood revitalization efforts in Anaheim, wrote here recently about strategies that neighbors can use to get unsightly houses cleaned up. Each situation likely requires a different approach, but volunteers lending a hand as they did in Anaheim can move mountains.


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