Ceres cleans up neighborhood nuisance

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 22, 2014 

— The two tiny houses on a downtown corner lot had been an eyesore for a while, with knee-high dead grass in the yard and trash and debris in the backyard. The homes did not have electricity, water or sewer despite three squatters living there.

Several city workers spent much of Friday removing the debris – including rotting food and human waste – mowing the grass and chopping down weeds before boarding up the homes. By the end of the day, code enforcement supervisor Frank Alvarez said he and other workers had removed enough rubbish to create a mound 36 feet long by 16 feet wide by 6 feet high before it was hauled away.

“I’ve been on this job for nearly eight years,” he said. “The odor here caused me to gag.”

The corner lot is at Eighth and Lawrence streets, across from Argus Continuation and Endeavor Alternative high schools. Alvarez said two men and a woman had been living in the two small homes. Two neighbors said the three had lived there for about a year.

One of the men was arrested on a warrant. The other man and the woman left the property. The two neighbors – who declined to give their names because they fear retaliation from the three – said they are grateful the city cleaned up a neighborhood nuisance but questioned why it took so long.

One neighbor said she had contacted the Police Department about the blighted property but did not get a response, and the other neighbor said officers had come to the property about three times because the people were fighting and breaking the windows.

Alvarez – who is the city’s only code enforcement officer – said he became aware of the blighted property Wednesday when the city received a phone call from the continuation school that people from the two homes were coming on campus to charge their cellphones. This happened occasionally over several weeks, said John Christiansen, the Ceres Unified School District’s child welfare and attendance coordinator.

He said the people were on campus when classes were out and janitors were there. He said the school also was concerned about the large number of people coming and going from the property. Alvarez and a police officer visited the property Thursday.

Police arrested Francisco Gerardo Padilla, 47, on a Modesto warrant related to assault and battery charges. He is in the Stanislaus County jail. The names of the other man and woman were not released, but neighbors said the woman is Padilla’s wife and the other man is her adult son.

Alvarez said the city took quick action through what is called a summary abatement because of the health and safety hazards the property posed to the neighborhood. He said the city could not reach the property owner but will bill him for the cleanup.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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