Richmond sues own councilman over 'junkyard,' health and safety violations
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/19/2013 03:41:58 PM PDT
Updated: 07/19/2013 04:09:47 PM PDT
This property at Ohio Avenue and Carlson Boulevard, formerly owned by Councilman Corky Booze and...
RICHMOND -- The city this week sued one of its elected leaders, alleging that Councilman Corky Boozé has imperiled public health and safety and flouted a slew of local laws in maintaining a "junkyard" in a residential neighborhood.
The 100-page-plus lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court, alleges that a property managed by Boozé in the 20 block of Carlson Boulevard is home to "unsightly, dangerous ... blighted conditions which are detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the public," and demands that it be cleaned up within 30 days.
The lawsuit also asks that Boozé, a former race car driver, be fined as much as $3,500 per day for noncompliance and be responsible for all the city's staff and legal costs associated with the matter.
"This is what cities do when they can't get voluntary compliance with state and local laws," said Trisha Aljoe, a contract attorney who works with the city's Code Enforcement Department. "This is standard procedure, an injunction to compel compliance with state and local laws."
The showdown over the property has stretched on for months, as city officials repeatedly have inspected the 28,000-square-foot lot and ordered Boozé to purge the dozens of rusted-out cars, oil drums and other allegedly hazardous and toxic conditions.
In the complaint filed Wednesday, Code Enforcement Director Tim Higares calls the violations of local state codes "massive,"
noted that containers of "compressed gases" were strewed about and said that BART passengers -- the rail runs above the lot -- get a clear view of the debris with every trip through town.
Boozé on Friday remained defiant, calling the actions a "politically motivated, tax-dollar-funded witch hunt to keep me from being re-elected in 2014."
"I have all the proper licensing to do what I am doing at the facility, and I have a solid 6-foot steel fence all around it," he said. "I have a right to conduct my business there and not be subject to politics at its absolute worst. This is (the city) just deciding, let's mess with Corky."
Aljoe issued a report April 12 in which she described Booze's yard as "unlawful, hazardous, unsafe and blighted conditions ... so extreme and extensive that it is difficult to describe."
Boozé, 69, has been tangling with the city for almost 30 years over the property, which is now owned by Laura Baker, a former girlfriend, who is also named in the city's lawsuit. The city even won an injunction against him in 1994, which paved the way for an action clearing out the yard, but it has since been replaced.
Boozé said the cars, lawn mowers, boats and other items on the property constitute his livelihood. He said he buys them at auctions and resells them.
But the heat got turned up again last year when Kate Sibley, a Richmond resident, began lodging complaints against the property. After several months, code enforcement acted. Boozé argues that Tom Butt, his political rival on the council, conspired with Sibley on the complaints.
Butt has acknowledged that he and Sibley discussed the property, but he denied directing her to do anything. He said Friday that Boozé made his own mess, and that his yard of rusty hulls has no place in a city that takes blight more seriously than ever.
"We have an excellent staff that knows keeping blight down in the city is key to quality-of-life improvements," Butt said. "No one is above the law."
Boozé has 30 days to respond with the court, Aljoe said.