Reader Rave: “Good Neighbors in OB Act in the Face of a Bad Purpose”

by on May 20, 2014 · 25 comments

in Environment, History, Life Events, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing

A Conclusion to “Good Neighborhood/Bad Neighbors”

Editor: In March we published a Reader Rant entitled “What to Do With Bad Neighbors in a Good Neighborhood?” by an anonymous local resident. Many of our readers responded to his complaint and plight – there were an unusual number of comments – 61 to be exact. That resident  – Daniel Bille – has since made himself known publicly and attended an OB Town Council meeting to further his case.  Now, the problems with his problem neighbors are over – and here is his story.

By Daniel Bille / Special to the OB Rag

It was the first Thursday night in May and our lives returned to normal. For months, we had grown a sense of foreboding and dread every night when the sun went down but especially when Thursdays arrived. For reasons we can only guess, Thursday was the night the renters next door preferred to get drunk early and fight each other or, worse, keep us awake all night with their noise. Always on Thursday. I grew to fear Thursday coming over the past year.

For months we did our best to insulate ourselves from the noise, windows closed, and curtains drawn, white noise machine in the baby’s room.

First, asking them politely to keep the party/quarreling noise down at night. Later, when asking failed, we call for police involvement.

The noise increased. The hostility did too. My daughter could not play in back yard alone without the renter/neighbors dogs charging the fence at her with the renter’s looking on impassive.

I stopped working in the yard without someone with me as a deterrent against threats; my wife stopped doing laundry at night. We would invite friends over for dinner on Thursdays not just for the pleasure of their company, but for the protection of safety in numbers. Such is the nightmare we found ourselves in since I woke from sleep to find the renters next door scaling the fence outside my 20 month old daughter’s bedroom window.

The first Thursday night in May was different. In place of the steady stream of empty alcohol containers leaving the house, there were boxes, the curtains had been removed from all of the windows. All of the renters cars started and pulled away after a slow drive by the front of our house.

That was all. Quiet. Just quiet. I opened my daughter’s bedroom window for the first time since Christmas and heard just the normal night noises of life in the city. Almost one year to the day since they moved in the renters next door were forcefully evicted for threatening and harassing my family.

Just how was this miracle even accomplished?

Thanks to the help of many people in the Ocean Beach community. Attending a meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council was the best decision we ever made. The support of leaders in the community, neighbors, mothers, fathers, police, and city council members. Special thanks to Frank and the O.B. Rag for being a pulpit for the community on which I could broadcast my distress in a March article.

I was able to work with representatives of the SDPD, DA’s office, and City enforcement branches.

Most importantly, I was able to network with other good neighbors in the community that had encountered and overcome similar problems who shared their experiences and knowledge with me. Mostly, my wife and I found that we were not alone in our struggle to ‘do the right thing’ and Ocean Beach is not just a collection of beach rentals and college party goers.

Readers should know that the resolution was not quick, nor was it easy.

We faced a situation so dire and out of control that, in the words of my father, “either they move, or you do”. I won’t lie, we seriously considered moving.

The path we took to the successful eviction of the renters was not violent or forceful, but methodical and persistent. We steadily documented day by day the events that occurred, compiling a log showing that the harassment was endemic not singular. I read and educated myself on local and state laws and communicated with Law Enforcement on procedures like ‘how to make a citizen’s arrest’ and how and when to call in noise violations. Law enforcement is limited in their resources, so unless faced with imminent danger, property owners must educate themselves on city and state laws dealing with noise and threats before it is a problem, and then be prepared on how to work with law enforcement (like asking for a copy of the report to be filed) after.

This is specifically how we dealt with the situation.

After repeatedly calling police about the noise and threats made to ourselves, we established a pattern of behavior at the residence. I admit, I did not call the police each time a disturbance occurred, and in retrospect I could have been more methodical and consistent in the calls. I am used to dealing with my own problems, so calling the SDPD each and every time there was a noise problem was just not my style. This, in the end, actually delayed dealing with the problem as it took longer to prove the pattern existed without a constant stream of calls about disturbances.

Tip: if you are dealing with a problem your neighbors are dealing with it too, coordinate together and work out a rotation of whose turn it is to call the police. This spreads the responsibility around and helps the authorities recognize this is a community and not an individual threat.

Documentation of problems is a key foundation. Without it, you can’t build yourself a solution. It requires dedication and vigilance to your task. Once a pattern of behavior is established, you can engage in litigation.

Ah, the L word. Litigation. Lawyers. Lawsuits.

They all send shivers up our spines. They do mine. Some are fortunate to have a family member or friend who knows or practices law. I had to call the San Diego Bar Association and get recommendations on whom to engage in the specialized law that covers neighbor disputes. Lawsuits are ugly, costly and require a lot of time to engage. Neighbor lawsuits are all of this, and have the added trait of not concluding to anyone’s satisfaction and/or resulting in suit/countersuit claims. I had to take vacation time to interview with a lawyer. I had to spend months of our paychecks on his fees. He generated a letter to be delivered to the property owner with a draft lawsuit stating the nature of the events that had taken place and that if eviction did not occur, the lawsuit would be filed. More importantly, the lawyer is more familiar with the realm of evictions, the procedures, and the rights of the homeowner and tenants. He knows what to ask and how to ask it.

The final step was execution.

The ‘line’ of propriety where a renter goes from ‘general nuisance’ to ‘public menace’ is squishy. They knew the system, and knew that if they kept quiet for the 30 day window the law gives between incidents, SDPD would have difficulty taking decisive action without decisive proof. That moment came. The great irony is that the same phone number that I had been calling and leaving messages with the property owner on about problems with his tenants that had been ignored for over eight months was immediately answered when a member of the SDPD placed a call. The homeowner answered (what a surprise). The SDPD informed him that a minimum $7,000 fine PER NEIGHBOR HOUSEHOLD DISTURBED could be levied on the property owner. The letter of draft lawsuit was delivered the next day. To borrow from Sun Tzu: application of force is a last resort, but overwhelming force should be used when applied.

The property owner, agreed to evict his family and their partners by May 4th. It was the first week in April now. We waited. The noise continued as did some harassment, but we remained hopeful that the end was close. Would the homeowner do the right thing and evict his sister and her family?
The owner had said to me when he first purchased the property that he had bought it as an investment, and to give his sister and her family a nice place to live. At the time we thought it a noble act. He failed to add that nearly everyone preparing to move in had an arrest record of some sort. With a few basic Google searches of public records, we uncovered assault, under-aged DUI with a false ID resulting in an accident which nearly killed an off-duty officer, and more. If I may surmise, they moved to San Diego to start fresh under the patronage of their brother/uncle. Where they failed is they chose to bring along old habits. It became my misfortune to tolerate then intercede in their behavior and domestic violence over the last year.

The combined cooperation of the community, the city, the criminal justice system, civil courts, friends and neighbors, provided the overwhelming force applied to bring eviction. Our problem renter/neighbors’ left peacefully that Thursday without flare; the opposite of the arrogant confidence they exhibited following each visit from San Diego police. We did not celebrate (as many suggested we do) but the sense of relief was palpable. The stress and tension of being alert for danger for months lifted, and my family went to bed early that night and got our first full night sleep, undisturbed, for months. I tell people I am happy that I could open my daughter’s bedroom window for the first time since last summer.

And what of our now ex-renter/neighbors?

We have moved forward with our lives to not waste any more of our lifetime on them. Chance would have it a crime alert application gave us a surprise. The same young man who had threatened the SDPD at Christmas, climbed the fence outside my daughter room, the nephew of the property owner? He was arrested just a week after eviction for carrying a concealed dirk or dagger, and resisting arrest. His arrest was completely independent of our lives, but given our experiences with him, inevitable.

I want to thank all the people in the Ocean Beach area, the Town Council, the OB Rag, our family, friends, neighbors, the San Diego Police Department Western Division, and the City of San Diego for all lending us help. To quote Charles Frederic Aked:

“It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”

Thank you, everyone, for acting

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Katydid52 May 20, 2014 at 10:23 am

While on one hand, I am amazed you tolerated such a ridiculous and scary situation for as long as you did, I certainly applaud your choice to draw a line in the sand and not cower to lawlessness. If you moved, which would have been completely understandable, they would have terrorized the next tenant, and the next.

I am so proud of you :)

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

Mr. Katy, I posted my response incorrectly several posts down. Thank you!

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Avatar Another Anonymous Neighbor May 20, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Thanks to Daniel for solving the problem before it inevitably became our problem as well (the rental property is sandwiched between our houses). However, it may be too soon to close the book – I saw one of their cars parked behind the building again yesterday. Maybe they were just coming back to get their stuff.

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 21, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thank you neighbor, for listening to our odyssey. It is always emergencies and tragedies that bring a community together, so I am grateful to build good report with good neighbors in our time of need. Please contact us if you have any problems we can help with!

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Avatar Debbie May 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Will the building owner aka brother, uncle and few other choice names pay the legal fees incurred? Did the harassed residents and neighboring tenants get any words of apology and a promise from the owner that such a situation will NEVER arise again?

I hope this family will be able to enjoy their summer and be safe.

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Avatar Mrs. Bille May 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm

This was another topic within our household…. should we pursue repayment of the legal fees, etc? It is still under discussion. We are just happy at this moment to move on with our lives and enjoying time with our baby daughter. And no, there were no words of apology. Just this weekend the homeowner had his construction crew show up at 7am on Sunday morning to start work… which is not allowed according to the noise ordinance. My husband again tried to be the bigger person and poked his head over the fence to ask him to please not start noisy renovations at 7am on a Sunday as it woke our household up. The homeowner basically told my husband to go pound sand and that we should go call the city on him as we’ve done in the past. So we did. The cops arrived 10 minutes later to issue him a warning and issue another incident number to add to our ongoing log of issues with this property.

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Avatar Debbie May 20, 2014 at 7:59 pm

A case for Judge Judy!

I hope your neighbors will continue to support you. Good Luck.

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Avatar gristmiller May 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Good Work!

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Avatar oburntout May 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I am dealing with a similar problem; only drugs, and now I understand prostitution. The police have been no help and now the family/land owner has been overheard lying to the police. I have documented this situation for over two years now. SDPD seems to think that O.B. is a place where these people are tolerated. Good for you! You finally won. I, however, am not so hopeful.

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Avatar Bearded OBcean May 21, 2014 at 9:14 am

Gee, I wonder where the popo got the idea that this behavior is tolerated in OB. When it’s a general disturbance, instead of specific as in the case of the author, the only people who seem to care are homeowners, the ones who pay taxes, paid a substantial amount of money for a home, etc. Otherwise, it’s tolerated as the price of living in a carefree town where anything goes.

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Avatar Tyler May 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

I think that’s a way to oversimplified and generalized statement. There are plenty of renters who aren’t 20 years old/act 20 years old who feel the same way as the homeowners your speak of.

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Avatar Another Anonymous Neighbor May 21, 2014 at 10:55 am

My concern (as the other neighbor of these renters) is that because the units are so small and poorly maintained and have inadequate parking, they’re going to attract this type of tenant again.

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 21, 2014 at 9:57 am

Mr./Mrs. Oburntout,

Sounds as if you’ve observed criminal behavior for an extended period of time. I feel your frustration and I shared it. When the renter/neighbor came over our fence, I was certain that he would be in cuffs when the police arrived. Imagine my surprise when the police said they couldn’t issue a ticket without seeing the trespass. Then I actually READ the trespassing law in California I was appalled at how low the penalty was. The Police don’t like arresting people that will just walk away, so they prioritize their efforts based on levels of danger to public safety. Trespassing isn’t a public safety issue, but attempted murder is.

Are you familiar with the exact municipal codes that are being violated? The police do their best given their limited resources, so call up the western division and talk to a detective. Ask him/ her what is needed to issue a ticket or prosecute a crime you are observing. The burden of proof is on the city/county/state DA, GIVE THEM the tools they need to help you. You deserve the protection of the law, so actually read the law. Know the rules that are broken, and call the police when it happens. If you see a crime, execute a citizen’s arrest. They will a citation for you. The burden will be on you to appear in court as a witness, but enough calls and enough tickets will draw very unwanted attention to criminal activity.

One last suggestion, people at the OB town council have faced this problem, and in our time of need gave us suggestions and resources that I had never even heard of. If you are bothered by crime, chances are others are too. Good luck, and hope to see you at the next meeting.

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Avatar Gail Powell May 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

So happy that this has finally been resolved. Incident numbers from police phone calls are the proof that something is amiss. Get enough of them together and someone from Code Enforcement has to do something. Over my many years in Ocean Beach, I have enjoyed some of the best in neighbors and had to deal with some of the worst, just like Daniel Bille.

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 22, 2014 at 10:36 am

Mrs. Powell,

You are right on all points. I only wish I had known the appropriate way to deal with this when it started and not learning ‘the hard way’. I too have observed neighbors up and down my street leap to the assitance of strangers, or show the level of concern that marks it as a place I want to raise my family. I hope that dealing with this situation has made Ocean Beach a tiny bit better for all of us. I hope the story can keep others from facing the dispair we did, and find a peaceful way out.

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 21, 2014 at 9:29 am

Mrs. Katy,
It is always surprising the pain a person can tolerate when given no other choice. I was keenly aware that the renter/neighbors were going to be there for a long time. The ‘true’ owner was their brother/uncle and I was certain on what side of a disagreement he would come down on. We endured because we knew that we had to get along, the alternative was a long and difficult conflict. Their mistake was in pushing us too far, and then pushing again. In enduring we probably made things worse because we were perceived as easily intimidated. I’ve asked that question of many people, and the general consensus was that in the case of these people “they just don’t get it”. They have acted like this their entire lives, and continue to act like this after they left. They didn’t want to leave a house they lived in for free, I didn’t want to leave the house I own and have restored. I think the deciding factor is that I plan to have my children attend school in OB, so I have strong ties to the community. They were just passing through in the hurricane that is their lives. I am glad the community was strong enough to hold on to us as this storm raged, and finally passed.

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Avatar Another Anonymous Neighbor May 21, 2014 at 10:39 am

I still see one of the cars, and the lights were on in the converted garage in the back last night. Are we sure they’re gone?

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Avatar Mrs. Bille May 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

Neighbor,
Yes, they are gone. This is an additional renter who has been there, independent of the family. She has never been a part of this issue at all.

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Avatar Dan Shay May 21, 2014 at 11:52 am

That article was well written.

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

Mr. Shay,

Thank you. I hope to write something more positive in subject for the OB Rag in the future.

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Avatar Dear Ol' Dad May 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm

We live in an eclectic community made up of people ranging from the downtown lawyers to the left over hippies. That’s one of the attractive features of OB. On any day, I may compete for a parking space on Newport with a Beverly Hills playboy parking his Maserati and a moment later pass a fellow smoking a hand rolled joint and be offered: “Ya wanna hit?”

Some of us have lived in suburbia, wide open spaces, rolling lawns where you go to the grocery store to meet your neighbors. We have given up the luxury of remoteness for the convenience of walking to Hodad’s or Session’s Public, greeting your neighbor in their front yard or yours, leaving the car at home and walking to the beach, the pier or just aimlessly through the neighborhood. There is a cost. We must adopt certain social mores to exist in a community with a high population density. If you live on a ranch in West Texas, you can walk around naked in your back yard if you’re the only person for miles around. On the other hand if you want to walk to the beach in OB, please be certain to wear your bathing suit out of consideration for the thousands of people who share the few square miles we call Ocean Beach.

We not only tolerate, we celebrate diversity. I’ve seen an earth bound version of the star ship Enterprise cruising the streets of OB. I’ve seen a very pregnant belly, painted to look like a completely plausible watermelon walking down Newport. And I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve seen folks so intoxicated they’re unable to get themselves home and on occasion you or I have offered them assistance.

In general we are a tolerant community but there are limits. We cannot tolerate people peeking into a little girl’s bedroom window. Even if it is an isolated incident, it cannot be tolerated because this behavior leads to or is associated with harmful, anti-social actions that can destroy families, the root of our community.

If you are a social animal, as many of us are, welcome to our city. If you are an antisocial, predator, go live in the wild where you can do little harm to others.

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Avatar reid May 30, 2014 at 11:28 am

well said!

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Avatar Christo May 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

Daniel,
Since reading your initial letter, I had wondered how it was going to play out. I have 2 young children and own a house sandwiched between the “kids” of the owners so your situation could have easily been mine. That being said, my neighbors are wonderful people. I could not ask for better.

I hope your block gets good tenants in there, and you find OB to be the place you thought it was and have worked to achieve.

Thanks for telling us about it.

Christo

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Avatar Daniel Bille May 22, 2014 at 10:28 am

Christo

I am happy to report a successful ending to the original article I posted. I hope you, and anyone else, who face a situation you think is un-resolvable can find something in my story that can help you. People in this community helped me in my time of dire need. I hope that the community can benefit from my experience.

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Avatar Yolo June 6, 2014 at 11:34 pm

Thank you to the Bille family for helping to make our neighborhood one that is not plagued by drunks, druggers and criminals. Now we are dealing with someone living in his motor home. In fact tonight he is parked
In front of the Bille’s home. He needs to
Move along for this is a true neighborhood with true neighbors

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