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Human Relations Panel Sits In on Dog Waste Fight

Times Staff Writer

Don’t tell Dagoberto Zavala about man’s best friend. Those tail-wagging pooches that offer glad-to-see-you greetings at the front door are no friends of his . His displeasure has even gained the attention of the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Zavala says dog waste has fouled his life and that of his family since they moved three years ago into their upper-middle-class home in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Dogs have made the lawn near his house their public restroom, and nothing he’s done seems to be driving them away. Not the sign asking pet owners to be considerate. Not the dog repellent. Not the rat traps. Not the motion-triggered buzzer. Not even the ultrasound gadget undetected by human ears.

“It was psychological warfare,” Zavala said.

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His dispute with the Los Abanicos Homeowners Assn. over who is responsible for picking up the mess escalated last month when Zavala threatened to sue.

Now, the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which normally mediates lofty issues such as racial and ethnic harmony, is helping both sides decide who should clean up after the dogs.

“This problem has been going on since Day One. I was amazed at how rampant and terrible it was,” said Zavala, an electrical engineer.

At issue is Zavala’s demand that the association pay someone to pick up dog waste from the grassy areas around his house and the walkway leading to his door. The greens are common areas used by all residents, including pets.

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The homeowners association has been relying on residents to clean up after their dogs, using bag dispensers located throughout the development.

Landscape crews hired by the association sometimes also do cleanup, said Jeff Leane, vice president of Merit Property Management Inc., which maintains the association’s common areas.

“I would think the poop gets picked up by a gardener or gets sucked up by a mower,” he said.

None of this satisfies Zavala.

In an e-mail sent to Merit officials last month, he accused the company of evading responsibility “for an ongoing nuisance” and violating his rights to “a peaceful dwelling.”

Zavala said he is “fuming” and thinking of moving.

“But I’m going to fight before I move,” he said. “Some of these people are so bold. I may be standing in the doorway, and they still allow their dog to urinate or defecate.”

Zavala’s complaints have “been on our radar screen since March or April,” Leane said. Both the association and Merit are eager to find a solution to the problem and have invited Zavala to meet with the association’s officers next month to discuss the issue, he said.

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“We’re looking forward to working with him to help us identify the perpetrators, instead of spinning our wheels on this and involving a government agency in the issue of poop,” Leane said.

Until then, though, Merit put an end to Zavala’s booby traps after receiving some complaints from residents.

Zavala said he was also ordered to remove the sign because it was unsightly and violated association rules.

James Armendaris, who offered to mediate the dispute on behalf of the Human Relations Commission, declined to comment, citing confidentiality rules. He was asked by Zavala to intervene.

“I’m making an attempt to work with them to see what I can do,” Armendaris said.

Robert Kettner, former president of the Los Abanicos Homeowners Assn., said he was surprised at the commission’s role.

“What? They don’t have enough work over there?” he said.

In the meantime, Zavala has another solution. He is now thinking of installing a surveillance camera to catch the violators -- both pets and their owners.

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That idea, Leane said, might work.

“The perpetrator has not been identified, and we’re continuing to look into the matter. We’ve encouraged him to identify who the perpetrator might be,” Leane said.


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