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Eyesore became a study in frustration for West Hills neighborhood

For more than three years, residents of a quiet west San Fernando Valley neighborhood watched as a house on their street grew shabbier and shabbier.

At one time, the 1,160-square-foot house on Kittridge Street in West Hills had been immaculately maintained, neighbors recalled.

But then its original owner died and his son took over the house. The younger man began inviting others to stay there. Occupants and their cars came and went at all hours, neighbors said.

Soon, the new homeowner decided to enlarge the house. He punched holes in its walls and stripped away stucco, exposing the electrical wiring.

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The remodeling stalled, however, and weeds sprang up in the front and back yards. More people moved in and police were often called to deal with noise complaints and make drug arrests, according to area LAPD Senior Lead Officer Sam Sabra.

Then came the early morning fire seven months ago that destroyed the garage and damaged other parts of the 50-year-old structure.

After that, the Department of Water and Power cut off utilities. A bank initiated foreclosure and the house was sold June 13. Its occupants were given 30 days to leave.

This week, the last of them moved out. And city officials pledged they would take immediate steps to condemn and “eradicate” the charred house.

“It’s an eyesore. It’s a blight on the neighborhood. I don’t know how this has gone on as long as it has,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the area and lives within walking distance of the Kittridge Street house. “We’re going to contact the city attorney’s office. We’ll be very aggressive with it.”

Zine said he and his office were unaware of the neighborhood’s growing anger and frustration over the house until being contacted by The Times. But Kittridge Street residents say they repeatedly begged city officials to make homeowner Joseph Schwartz clean up his property and repair the fire damage.

“The city’s response has been outrageous. It’s a dangerous situation, and it’s getting worse,” said Adele McMahon, who lives next door.

“We called Councilman Zine’s office and a woman there said that Joey is a ‘special needs’ person. I asked what she meant. Our daughter went to school with Joey, and it didn’t seem then that he had any issues.”

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Her husband, retired meat marketer Michael McMahon, said they feared that electrical wiring running through the rear wall’s exposed studs might spark another fire that could threaten their own home of 18 years.

Those living along the street signed a petition asking that officials take action. “But the city has done nothing,” said neighbor Pam Karamad, a dental hygienist.

Neighbor Maggie Zito said residents would normally have volunteered to help Schwartz clean up his front yard and at least board up the charred garage area. “But because of all the strange things that go on there, we shied away,” said Zito, a teacher.

Adrian Abarca, a writer, agreed that people in the neighborhood have sympathy for others facing financial problems: “People fall on hard times and it’s not always their fault.”

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Neighbor Allen Taf said residents repeatedly called authorities about the smell of the burned-out garage. He said those on the block were puzzled by Schwartz, described as a 40-year-old computer expert.

“Joey was a good boy. But four or five years ago he changed,” said Taf, a drapery maker.

The home’s decline had accelerated in recent years, said Billy Smart, a retired sheet metal worker who has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years. “That house used to be absolutely beautiful. Everything — the house, the yard — was perfect. It’s sad.”

Schwartz could not be reached for comment. A woman at the house this week said he had gone to Pomona and had no phone.

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Public records indicated the house was sold June 13 for $290,599 to Park Parthenia Ltd., which lists a Long Beach mailing address. Other houses on the block range in estimated value from $354,000 to $472,000.

Zine went to Kittridge Street on Tuesday evening to inspect the property. He said his office had no record of being contacted by residents. Perhaps, he said, a volunteer took the phone call and failed to log it in his office’s files.

On Wednesday, Frank Bush, an administrator with the Building and Safety Department, said the city’s efforts to force Schwartz to bring the house into compliance with the law were delayed by the foreclosure and subsequent sale of the property.

Zine said the home’s new owner has pledged to quickly remove debris and repair the house. “I’d be surprised if it’s not cleaned up by this weekend,” he said Wednesday.

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bob.pool@latimes.com


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