Richmond city probe finds councilman's property in worse condition than originally thought
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 05/01/2013 04:10:11 PM PDT
Updated: 05/01/2013 04:16:51 PM PDT
RICHMOND -- An inspection in March revealed that a fenced, junk-strewed property linked to City Councilman Corky Boozé had not been cleaned up as demanded by the city but rather contained environmental hazards worse than initially thought and that may violate a slew of local and state laws, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
In a 21-page letter addressed to Boozé and Laura Baker, the legal owner, city prosecutor Trisha Aljoe wrote that the 28,000-square-foot lot at 22 Carlson Blvd. is home to " ... unlawful, hazardous, unsafe and blighted conditions ... so extreme and extensive that it is difficult to describe."
The conditions were assessed during a March 21 inspection by city staff, accompanied by Boozé, to see whether any progress had been made following a March 6 "notice of violation and demand to abate" letter issued by the city.
"Unfortunately," Aljoe wrote, "not only have the violations not been abated as previously demanded, the magnitude of unlawful and unsafe conditions ... were far worse than the city had been able to determine from its initial observations ..."
The city's Code Enforcement Department began to lean on Boozé last year, after local resident Kate Sibley lodged numerous complaints against the property. Baker could not be reached for comment. Court documents from 2003 show Boozé told a judge that Baker was his "domestic partner of 30 years."
Boozé called the letter and the ongoing action a "political witch hunt" and said the allegations that he is violating any laws are "totally untrue." He said Councilman Tom Butt, his political rival, "orchestrated the whole thing."
"The city has more important business than to be taking sides in a political vendetta between two council members," Boozé said.
Reached Tuesday, Butt said he did talk with Sibley before her complaints but that Boozé needs to follow the law.
"Corky is in denial," Butt said.
The property is owned by Baker, a Vallejo resident who took ownership in 1996, according to county records. Baker took over the property amid years of bitter legal battles between the city and Boozé and his son Kevin over violations and blighted conditions.
Boozé, 69, holds a business license for auto body repair and restoration at the site, adjacent to the Richmond Greenway and just beneath elevated BART tracks. Behind a 6-foot fence lies old cars and car parts, along with other metals and industrial tools. Single-family homes are Boozé's immediate neighbors and dot the surrounding blocks.
Code Enforcement officials are set to conduct an inspection of the property at 1 p.m. Thursday, after Boozé requested a reschedule of an earlier inspection.
In the letter, Aljoe wrote that the city fire marshall determined the property poses "a fire hazard and danger to public safety, health and welfare, particularly the ... residential dwellings in proximity."
The letter lists more than 20 alleged violations of local and state law and includes an inventory of more than 40 vehicles, along with piles of car batteries, unmarked containers of toxic liquids and evidence of "significant soil contamination" that will require cleanup.
Code Enforcement Director Tim Higares said the city always hopes for voluntary compliance, but sometimes litigation is necessary to compel compliance.
"We give people every opportunity to comply," Higares said. "Corky has been cooperative, not combative."
Boozé disputed the allegations that he is in violation of any ordinances but said he has been tidying up ahead of the inspection.
"I do business of the city as an elected representative all day," Boozé said. "And I am working on this, too."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or email@example.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers