Jeff Jardine

Ben, Willard unwelcome holdovers after Riverbank hoarder’s property cleaned

A hoarder’s mess on Mesa Drive in Riverbank was cleaned up Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.
A hoarder’s mess on Mesa Drive in Riverbank was cleaned up Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

The bulk of the mess is gone: more than 350 cubic yards of debris – from political signs to rubbish to dried-out Christmas trees to rotted furniture – all sent away to a landfill.

There are, however, some residual things that scoops and buckets attached to heavy equipment can’t remove.

Hundreds of rodents that once called the pile home, according to neighbors, were seen Monday night hanging out in the trees along the property line. Courtney Schmitt, who lives down the street, asked Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien to intervene. He, in turn, contacted Jami Aggers, the county’s Environmental Resources Director.

The county ordered property owner Ellen Caudill – or more specifically her brother who is cleaning the place up on her behalf – to hire a pest control company or deal with it themselves. Either way, the vermin need to be e-rat-icated.

“That was the conversation we had,” Aggers said. “We were alerted to the issue because the neighbors were concerned. He said he would (deal with it).”

It’s another step toward restoring a once picturesque ranch-style home along Mesa Drive and making it livable again. Neighbors who have watched the blight increase in size and filth over the years were happy to see the junk disappear even though they harbor no ill will toward homeowner Caudill. I wrote about her place last month.

For many years, she decorated the yard so well for the various holidays that people would bring their kids by to see the displays.

“That was her – very crafty,” said her brother, who asked not to be identified by name.

But over time she ventured beyond showing off seasonal decor and into all-out hoarding. Neighbors including Greg Smith said she routinely scavenged from trash bins behind Riverbank stores, and brought garbage back to her home. It eventually took up virtually every bit of space between the street and the front door, to the point where no one could get into the backyard. She’s had no electrical power in the home for at least a couple of years, and because the home relies on well water pumped electrically, she’s had no running water for the same amount of time.

Some area residents said she could be extremely pleasant one minute and agitated the next. Ultimately, other area residents took their displeasure to county officials, asking for them to step in because she clearly needed help and the property represented a health hazard.

Environmental Resources officials posted a cleanup order at the property in 2015, and the Nuisance Abatement Hearing Board gave her brother the opportunity to clean up the mess after he saved her home from foreclosure this past summer.

All that stated, the county had to respect Caudill’s due process rights. Her brother, a pleasant gent, convinced her to allow him to remove the debris. She’s staying in a Modesto motel while the work is being done, and is getting other kinds of help she needs as well.

“I’m just happy for her that its cleaned up,” he said while at the home Tuesday. “We’re going to get to the point where we can get the electricity and the plumbing back on.”

He wouldn’t address the rodent issue, but did talk about the sheer volume of stuff hauled away. Each trailer holds 13 cubic feet of whatever, and there was plenty of whatever to haul away.

“There were at least a dozen loads,” he said. Add to that a 35-yard container delivered by Gilton Solid Waste Management, filled and then trucked away, earlier, and a few more truckloads about half the size of the trailer, and you get the picture. That’s a lot of stuff – and that’s just from the front yard. The backyard, he said, isn’t as bad as some folks speculated, but it needs to have some debris and brush removed. The brother said he hasn’t been inside the home yet and has no idea of its condition. His hope is that Caudill can someday return to her home in a safe, clean environment.

Meanwhile, the neighbors are thrilled with the cleanup so far. They’ll be even happier when the squatting critters are gone, too.