A 60-year-old homeless man who faced eviction from an Anaheim Hills arboretum he tended for two decades along the Santa Ana River has won a reprieve from his would-be landlord, the Orange County Water District.
The district, evidently unaware that Richard Dumke had been living on the riverbank for 20 years, told the former biologist that he must move.
But his lush garden and gentle nature have won him supporters. A group calling itself Friends of Richard surprised him Friday with a used motor home to sleep in. The recreational vehicle was provided by the Orange County Catholic Worker, a Santa Ana poverty-relief organization.
"It has a shower, a bathroom, a stove and everything," said Tina Locklear, an attorney who is providing free legal help for Dumke.
The RV needs to be registered, and Dumke needs to renew his driver's license, which lapsed years ago.
Although talks between Locklear and water agency officials ended on a sour note earlier in the week, the president of the water district's board of directors said another meeting is expected next week. Dumke, who faced eviction last week, can remain for an additional 30 days or until a solution is found.
"My hope is that we can find a place for Richard to live and, over time, Richard can relocate his garden to a place more appropriate. But we're going to work with him on that," said Denis R. Bilodeau, president of the water agency's board of directors, who visited Dumke on Sunday.
Bilodeau said he came away impressed at the arboretum's beauty and Dumke's intelligence. "But he's living by his own set of rules out there," Bilodeau said.
The district said it considers Dumke a trespasser, albeit a nice one.
Locklear said that Dumke's supporters had hoped that he would be allowed to lease the garden. They even arranged an insurance policy for him, a requirement they said the water agency demanded.
But when Locklear met with agency officials this week, they said their main interest was in relocating Dumke and preventing him from sleeping on the property.
Over the years, the former biologist who has been living above the river at Imperial Highway has crafted an arboretum with a koi pond, bird feeders and about 250 fruit and pine trees, shrubs and exotic plants.
Before he moved into a shack on the water district land, Dumke lived in a van parked near the garden. But the van was towed away in January 2001.
Dumke works as a janitor for a nearby business.
If he moves into the motor home, Locklear said she and Dumke's friends intend to shift their attention to protecting his legacy: the garden. They are forming a nonprofit foundation they hope can take over the garden. They also have been contacted by a local church foundation that has expressed an interest in preserving the site.
Help for Dumke has snowballed, Locklear said. Supporters have put up posters to help raise funds and created a Web site with a streaming video of the garden.
A fund to help Dumke has been started, Locklear said. Contributions can be made to the Help Richard Dumke fund in care of Washington Mutual, 5791 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, Anaheim, CA 92807.