Napa officials fail to help elderly homeowner

April 13, 2011 8:40:20 PM PDT
A long-time resident of Napa says local government has failed her. At issue is a hazard at the house where she's lived for more than 60 years.

The answer seems so simple, but officials have failed to solve the problem they've known about for almost a year and the homeowner's family is worried about her safety.

No matter what time of year -- even when it hasn't rained for days -- water pours onto Evelyn Carroll's property.

Noyes: How frustrating is this?
Carroll: It, it... you can sit down almost and cry.

She spent $1,500 to have a sump pump installed, but the water still pools along the side of her house -- growing thick, slippery algae.

"That is thick in there, it's about that thick," said Carroll.

Carroll can't even get to her trash cans.

Carroll: It's nasty.
Dan: How so?
Carroll: Well, I took my garbage can through there one day and I really slipped, and I didn't fall, good thing I had the garbage can and the fence to hang on to.

The 86-year-old is very independent -- lives on her own, takes care of the garden -- but her children and grandchildren are worried.

"If she should fall, she could break anything, and at her age, that's a catastrophe," said Susan Street, Carroll's daughter.

Evelyn has lived in her home for 63 years -- it's been a great place to raise a family. Her problems began last year when a new neighbor rented a bulldozer and installed an illegal well right next to her property.

Dan: Was this work permitted?
Enzo Orciuoli: Uh, no.

Orciuoli owns a towing service and admits he has no experience doing this kind of work. He also dug up the soil near Carroll's fence -- we found big holes with standing water. We asked Orciuoli about the water that began flowing onto Carroll's property after he put in the illegal well and we asked him about that thick, green slime.

Dan: Old people fall and break their hips all the time, she can't get to her garbage cans, you understand that?
Orciuoli: I understand that.
Dan: What can you do to get that slime out of there?
Orciuoli: Let me see.

Orciuoli is reluctant to do anything. He argues that Carroll's home is below the water table.

Orciuoli: You could jack it up and raise the foundation.
Dan: You actually want her to jack up her house and raise the foundation?
Orciuoli: Well, it's below the water table, that's the best reason, the reasoning I could think of.

"I think that's a property owner refusing to accept responsibility of his initial wrongdoing that's created this problem," said Tina Chechourka, the code enforcement officer for the city of Napa.

Carroll says Chechourka has been the only responsive official during this mess.

"It's taken a lot of time. It's taken way longer than it should have," said Chechourka.

The problem is Chechourka works for the city of Napa, where Carroll lives. On the other side of her fence, it's the county of Napa.

"My jurisdiction ends at that county line, I have no jurisdiction into the county to order correction or to order a property owner to make correction," said Chechourka.

So, we contacted several county agencies and set up an interview with the head of public works. By the time we got to Napa, he backed out -- Napa County Supervisor Robert Westmeyer and his staff ordered all county employees not to be interviewed on camera because the case may wind up in court.

Dan: What's taking so long?
Wagenknecht: I wish there was an easy answer.

The supervisor for Carroll's district says the county has been persistent since receiving her complaint last June.

They've been peppering Orciuoli with compliance letters: "The work you have performed on your property has opened or affected an underground water source that is now causing this local hazard." The county ordered Orciuoli to "mitigate the increased drainage that is now occurring."

But, the pressure hasn't worked. One local official calls Orciuoli a "repeat offender." He's been cited for unsafe buildings and junk on his property. At this point, Wagenknecht says Carroll should handle it herself.

Wagenknecht: One of the better ways of trying to deal with this in this case, most direct is civil action.
Dan: So, her doing it herself?
Wagenknecht: Yeah.

"She doesn't belong in the civil arena, not when there are codes and there are abatement processes still unused that can take care of this problem," said Chechourka.

The city code enforcement officer says the county should have set a deadline for Orciuoli to fix the problem and enforced it.

Carroll: From my supervisor on down, I can't say a nice word about any of them.
Dan: What's been the answer?
Carroll: Have patience and we'll get this cleared up in time.

Carroll's patience is running out. She wanted to spend these years enjoying her children and grandchildren, enjoying the memories of her husband that are sprinkled around the house.

Dan: How important is this house to you?
Carroll: Everything. It's my house. Dick and I, we always used to say if one of us were to be left here alone, we think we're going to stay here because we've been here so long, we know every corner of the house, we know every corner of the yard and I like it up here. And I want my yard back, I want my house back.

The answer is to install a drain along Carroll's fence to catch the water. Up to this point, Orciuoli has been unwilling to pay for it. He tells me he plans on hiring a hydrologist to look into the situation.

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