City bills resident $6,000 for clean up |

City bills resident $6,000 for clean up

After complaining that the city was throwing away his livelihood, Don Downey changed his tune last week when presented with a bill for the cleanup.

After more than a year of notices and a public hearing, the city of South Lake Tahoe carted away 31 dump loads of lumber, metal scraps, and partially built projects from behind Downey’s residence. On the day of the cleanup Downey said he had to leave his house because he was too upset to watch the city take lumber he had been collecting since 1979. Downey, 69, said he used the building materials, which covered two backyard lots, to build patio furniture, chairs, planter boxes, windmills and bird houses. Downey’s neighbors complained about having to see the materials from their decks.

When the city told Downey that he owed $6,057.05 for the cleanup, Downey denied owning the property or the materials, and went beyond that to say the city owed him.

“It’s not my lot. It’s not my material,” Downey said. “I told them I’m not going to pay for nothing. They told me to clean up the property and I did, and I expect to get paid for my labor.”

Gary Marchio, the city’s principal planner, said it took eight people, a total of 10 hours to clean up the stuff located on two lots in the 3100 block of Pioneer Trail. According to the El Dorado County Assessor’s Office, the two lots in question are owned by Downey’s son, Ray and wife, Grace Downey. City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said that didn’t cancel out Downey’s responsibility for the cleanup costs.

“All of the notices went to Don Downey, and he never said that it was not his personal or real property,” she said. “He claimed ownership of all the personal property that we were abating.”

DiCamillo said a lien could still possibly be placed on the property in Grace Downey’s name to pay for the cleanup.

Marchio said the nuisance abatement process works on a complaint basis, and the nuisance must be visible from adjoining properties.

“Most people clean up the problem within the time limits before we ever get to this stage,” Marchio explained. “It is a balancing act. We have to balance the property owner’s right to do what they want on their property with the rights of their neighbors. At some point it becomes a health and safety issue, and enough is enough. The neighbor’s resource is to call us.”

Downey said he planned to file a claim with the city for approximately $26,000 to pay for his labor and for items he claims the city stole from his home.

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