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  Richmond Official's Treasure is Junk to City
June 26, 2013

Richmond official's treasure is junk to city
Vice mayor says yard filled with valuables - city calls it blight
Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Richmond Vice Mayor Corky Boozé says the fence around his property keeps his possessions out of sight.
By Carolyn Jones
June 22, 2013
Richmond Vice Mayor Corky Boozé is mystified. Absolutely baffled.
The rusty lawn mowers, the drums of hydraulic fluid, the stacks of tires, the sideways hot tub, the '60s roadsters with blackberry bushes growing inside, the mannequin legs - all strewn throughout his three-quarter-acre property in Richmond - this is Boozé's empire.
So he cannot understand why the city is calling it trash, and why it probably will file a lawsuit to force him to clean it up or potentially face steep fines and liens.
"How can they call this blight? Nothing here is cast off. Everything on this premises is for sale," Boozé said on a recent weekday as he walked through the property at 22 Carlson Blvd., in the shadow of the BART tracks, surveying the thousands of items he's amassed. "Give in? Why should I? I know what my rights are."
Boozé, 69, has been tangling with the city for almost 30 years over his holdings. The first blight complaints trickled in not long after he bought the property in 1984, and the city even won a permanent injunction against him in 1994. The city cleared away much of his stuff, but more has since replaced it.
Boozé says the stuff is his livelihood: He buys it in bulk at auctions, fixes it and re-auctions it. Everything - from the auto-body paint dryer to the box of heating ducts - has value, he said.
Neighbors complain
But neighbors and city code inspectors say it's actually a junkyard, a magnet for vermin and a blight on the quiet residential neighborhood.
"It pollutes our neighborhood," said Kate Sibley, one of several neighbors who've complained to the city. "It's unsafe. It's an eyesore. We have to drive by it on a regular basis, and it's just purely awful."
In March, after a new round of complaints, this time from BART riders who view the property from the elevated tracks, the city attorney's office sent Boozé a five-page letter stating he was in violation of the 1994 injunction and that he needed to clean up the property within two weeks.
Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Boozé's property harbors a vast and eclectic mix of items including cars, pickup trucks, a boat, pressure steam cleaner and a street sweeper.
Since then, Boozé has haggled with inspectors over zoning issues and what, specifically, had to go, but did not meet the March 21 deadline. The city says it all has to go, but Boozé says he has a right to keep just about everything on the property.
"We are trying to move this through the process, with the ultimate goal of getting compliance" with city codes, City Manager Bill Lindsay said.
The property, which is now owned by Boozé's former girlfriend, is on the corner of Carlson and Ohio streets just south of downtown. On one side is the Richmond Greenway bike path and BART tracks, and across the street are modest single-family homes.
It's surrounded by a 6-foot corrugated-metal fence and three strings of barbed wire, but some stuff towers above the fence line, including several metal contraptions and a giant green Quonset hut, a semicircular, steel structure that dates from the World War II era.
Tuesday night, the City Council met in closed session to discuss possibly suing Boozé, who lives a few blocks from the property. Boozé recused himself from the discussion but attended the remainder of the meeting.
The matter now lies with the city attorney, who did not return calls for comment.
Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Richmond Vice Mayor Corky Boozé says he's a businessman and the victim of a political vendetta. But city officials and neighbors say his property is a junkyard that attracts vermin.
Political clashes
Boozé said the whole process is politically motivated, a vengeful effort by his political opponents to hound him out of business. He has frequently clashed with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and others over everything from Chevron permits to last fall's unsuccessful soda-tax ballot measure.
His long-standing fight with the city, in fact, is what inspired him to seek public office, he said. He ran nine times for City Council, finally winning in 2010 as the top vote-getter in a field of 10 candidates, with 14.51 percent of the vote.
Boozé, a former drag-car driver, is a licensed auto repair dealer who says he's just trying to make a living. His $1,250 monthly salary from the city is not enough to live on, he said.
The city's claim of blight is ridiculous, he said, because the property is surrounded by a fence.
"How do you get blight if no one can see it?" he said. "I told them, 'Don't do Corky Boozé any favors because he's on the council, but don't make up laws against me just because you don't care for me.' "
Whether anyone can see Boozé's collection is irrelevant, according to the city, because it poses a public health and safety risk regardless of a fence. Richmond's code prohibits outdoor storage of inoperable cars, and Boozé's property has at least a dozen of them.
Meanwhile, Boozé takes great pride in his assortment. Wending his way along a cleared path across the property, he points out his treasures.
"See that? That's not junk. It's a pressure steam cleaner," he said. "That over there, that's a street sweeper."
The property includes at least a dozen pickups, cars and a Crestliner fishing boat, all in various states of disrepair, a small office, a trailer, thousands of sundry metal objects and ample plant life.
Some of it, such as a treadmill, is under blue tarps, but most is exposed to the elements. Copper theft is a perpetual problem, he said.
"I'm just a businessman. I'm trying to make a living," he said. "I don't want to fight with the people. ... I think as professional people, we can all sit down and work this out."
Carolyn Jones is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: carolynjones@sfchronicle.com