MODESTO — The roughly two dozen homes on a quiet street in north central Modesto reflect the pride of those who live in them. With a couple of exceptions, the lawns are green and mowed. The shrubs are trimmed, the roofs in good repair and the houses well-kept.
Though some old-timers say the neighborhood, whose homes were built in the 1960s, is not as nice as it once was before more renters moved in, this stretch of Huntington Drive between Newport and Vicki drives remains solidly middle-class.
That is until you reach the corner home at Huntington and Vicki.
Much of the evidence from a July 1 fire that caused $150,000 in damage to that home remains evident. Part of the house's exterior is blackened from the flames. A blue tarp hangs in place of the garage door. The front and side yards overflow with auto parts, a 1963 GMC pickup truck, furniture, scrap wood, and plastic bins and barrels filled with detritus.
A temporary cyclone fence encircles much of the property. Brad and Greg Jarrell, the brothers who own the home, live in a 1970s-era motor home parked in the front yard. They have no electric, water or sewer service. They say friends give them propane for their motor home and they bring in water, though on one recent afternoon, a garden hose from a next-door neighbor snaked its way onto the Jarrells' property and a small fire burned in a metal tub in the front yard.
It's an understatement to call the property an eyesore.
"It bothers the hell out of us, all of us," said one man, who like the more than half-dozen neighbors interviewed for this story declined to give his name. "It doesn't do any good to talk to them (the brothers) because they totally ignore the issue."
Said another neighbor: "This house should be condemned. It's ruining my property values."
Neighbors say they have complained dozens of times to City Hall, but little has happened in the six months since the fire. City officials say they understand why neighbors are frustrated, but said they have to respect the brothers' due process and property rights as the city resolves its code enforcement against against them.
One of a slew of complaints
The case is one of 1,469 code enforcement actions Modesto's neighborhood preservation unit received last year. The unit consists of four code enforcement officers and a program coordinator.
The code enforcement actions can range from overgrown grass and weeds, or debris and junk in a front yard, to a business having too large of a sign. Many of the actions are settled quickly.
But Will Crew, Modesto's chief building official, said it can take several months to resolve an action if a property owner won't cooperate. He said that's in part because of the property owner's due process rights, including the right to an appeal.
The city's Building Safety Division brought a case against the Jarrells to the city's Board of Building Appeals on Nov. 26 after the Jarrells failed to make progress in cleaning up and fixing their property, according to a city staff report, despite several meeting with city officials and the city filing what is called a notice and order to have the Jarrells clean up and fix their home.
The board issued a resolution giving the Jarrells until Monday to remove the debris from the property and until Feb. 4 to repair the fire damage.
Crew said he could not comment on what the city might do if the Jarrells fail to comply because it is an active code enforcement case. But according to the city code, Crew could pursue such remedies as seeking court permission to remove the debris and demolish or board up and secure the property.
The brothers cannot continue to live in their motor home indefinitely. City code allows people to live in motor homes for up to 120 days while they repair their home as long as they comply with health and safety regulations. The brothers received permission from the city to live in their motor home in early October.
Most due to foreclosures
Crew said Modesto has demolished or boarded up 17 properties in the past year. The homes and commercial buildings had become problems after they had been abandoned. He said Modesto is monitoring an additional 12 properties, which the city could raze or board up.
In October 2011, the City Council allocated $50,000 to the neighborhood preservation unit to help it deal with abandoned and unsafe homes and buildings.
"The main reason we are seeing so much blight and vacant homes is because of the foreclosure situation we have seen in the past several years," Crew said.
He said abandoned homes which can become a target for squatters or thieves can be found throughout Modesto.
But this is not the case on Huntington Drive. The Jarrells inherited their home from their father after his death in 2002. Neighbors say the brothers were nuisances well before the July 1 fire, which the Modesto Regional Fire Authority says appears to be accidental and started in a rear room after furniture ignited.
The city has had several code enforcement actions against the Jarrells since 2006 for such issues as having garbage and debris in their yard. Crew said the city was able to gain voluntary compliance from the Jarrells, but after one action was resolved, another one would pop up.
The Jarrells said they understand their neighbors are upset, but they want the city to give them more time. Greg, 50, and Brad, 49, are unemployed and make ends meet through recycling, odd jobs, help from friends and food stamps. They do not have homeowners insurance.
"Sure it's an eyesore," Greg Jarrell said, "but we are trying to do the best we can. We're trying to get the money."
The Jarrells said the home has been in their family for 40 years.
"This is our property," Greg Jarrell said. " They have no right to take it from us."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.