Troubled property

Fire damaged home declared a dangerous building and public nuisance after almost a decade.

TWENTYNINE PALMS — A property was declared a dangerous public nuisance at the Tuesday City Council meeting.

The council voted 4-0 to declare the fire-damaged building and surrounding grounds of the building a public nuisance and adopted a resolution calling for the property owner to remove the junk and rubbish on the property. Mayor Pro Tem Joel Klink had an excused absence from the meeting.

Code enforcement officer Jim Thornburg shared with the council the city’s lengthy history with the property, located at 6609 La Luna Ave. A fire in 2010 sparked the issues.

“The structure burned and had major damage, making it uninhabitable. Multiple code enforcement officers have attempted to deal with the property owner,” Thornburg said.

Thornburg is actually the third enforcement officer to follow up with this particular property and owner. Absentee owner Henrietta Mancini explained her circumstances back in 2017. Code enforcement took that into consideration.

“We negated all the cites and started all over from ground zero,” Thornburg said.

Concerned neighbors told the council they have seen people squatting in the vacant property. Neighbors expressed that while they haven’t had problems with homeless individuals, they have seen different people entering the premises. There was also concern for the hazards caused by the deterioration of the building since, shingles and other parts of the neglected property have flown loose and entered neighboring yards.

“December 20 will be nine years that it has been an absolute blight on the community. The estimate, just to clean the grounds, was $2,500,” Thornburg said.

Over half of the homes in Twentynine Palms have absentee owners, according to the officer.

“People come on hard times … there are reasons for things to lapse. But after I read the report … and all the contact, it’s time to do something,” Mayor Steven Bilderain said.

The owner will have 45 days to do something on her own. If it is not removed, the city can take action to remedy the situation.

The process of building abatement will involve multiple steps. Before demolition, the site has to be tested for asbestos, then demolition contractors will submit bids.

“In the next three to four months the building should be down, depending on what happens with the asbestos. We can’t have anybody go in before that’s done,” Thornburg said. “Then we take out the slab and do the board-ups to keep people safe. We collapse the septic, take the slab out so it’s just flat ground.”

In situations where the owner walks away from a property, it goes into tax auction. Thornburg warns people to be aware of other potential costs when buying a property in that context.

“The hard part is that if you buy stuff at a tax auction, and you don’t do your due diligence, whoever buys it takes on that. You can buy something for $5,000 that has a $15,000 lien.”

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