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Petaluma cracks down on suspected drug house

As hundreds of calls for service continue to rack up at an east Petaluma home police say has long been a hub for drug and criminal activity, the city is taking what officials called unprecedented legal action against the property owners, seeking as much as $75,000 in fines while also attempting to shutter the house for a year.

The Petaluma City Council voted unanimously in a March 6 closed session meeting to direct the city attorney to file a complaint in the Sonoma County Superior Court under California drug abatement statutes, designed to make property owners civilly responsible for illegal drug activities on their properties. The house has long been a source of strife for neighbors on the otherwise quiet 1600 block of Weaverly Drive, with more than 632 calls for service and 54 arrests from January 2012 to Feb. 13, Petaluma police Lt. Brian Miller said.

The complaint, which City Attorney Eric Danly said his office plans to file this week, seeks $25,000 each from owners Arty and Kim Richardson, as well as from Kyle Richardson, a resident who was arrested in January on allegations relating to operating and maintaining a drug house. The city is also seeking a court order to board up the home for a year and the recovery of its associated costs and lawyer’s fees, Danly said.

“The situation is totally heart wrenching and we’re motivated to help make the neighborhood safe,” Danly said, adding that such legal action has never been facilitated by his office.

The city’s move comes on the heels of a multi-year battle between the property owners and Petaluma’s sole code enforcement officer, Joe Garcia, who has attempted to prompt residents to turn around “substandard living conditions” in the home and remove unsightly blight from the yards, which has included mattresses and garbage that led to rodent and insect infestations.

After two separate administrative hearings to consider the infractions and attempts to comply in 2015, an outside attorney ruled in favor of the city and the imposition of civil penalties, Garcia said. The city council voted last year to impose a special assessment against the property tax to collect $28,928 in outstanding fees, he said.

A subsequent hearing was held amid ongoing noncompliance and the city is waiting to receive a judgment about whether it will be granted an additional $49,750 in fees sought from the property owners, Danly said.

“The property owners have failed to take action and to get rid of the problem,” Garcia said.

Meanwhile, 55-year-old Kyle Richardson has been charged with a felony count of maintaining a home for the sale or distribution of narcotics stemming from the Jan. 10 arrest and is set to enter a plea at a March 23 hearing, according to Sonoma County Superior Court Administrative Aide Joe Langenbahn.

The Richardson family could not be reached for comment, but Kyle Richardson in January described the police activity as “highly racially-motivated” because he’s black. He said ongoing crackdowns inflict emotional strife on him and his 88-year-old mother, Arty, who lives in the home part time.

Josh Wilson, a longtime Petaluma resident who bought a house on the block in July, emerged as a de facto spokesperson for a group of concerned neighbors at the March 6 city council meeting. He described a pervasive pattern of nefarious activity that causes neighbors to “live in fear,” with police foot pursuits through backyards, arrests of suspected sex offenders and drug users, and used syringes, condoms and beer bottles discarded in family’s yards.

“We neighbors never get a break from the traffic to and from this house,” he said. “It’s daily and it is around the clock. Strangers lurk in cars outside our children’s bedrooms, sometimes for hours at a time. Sometimes they urinate in our yards. Sometimes intoxicated people come onto our property and engage our children.”

Miller said “nothing else comes close” to the amount of activity reported at the home, and of the 153 individuals the department has contacted there since 2012, most have reported the property is viewed as a refuge for alleged lawbreakers, he said.

“The really frustrating piece is the city tried to give them ample opportunities to address a number of the code violation and ongoing issues, and they work with us in some regards, but we’re still getting calls for service and still making arrests periodically there,” he said, adding that he’s “optimistic” about resolving the problems in court.

As various legal challenges and fines mount against the Richardsons, city officials hope problems that have plagued the neighborhood will dissipate, making way for a restored sense of peace.

“It’s been an ongoing problem for that neighborhood for a long time,” City Councilwoman Kathy Miller said. “We’re trying to do something about it and provide some relief. Hopefully this will do it.”