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There is a community in Pismo Beach where neighbors gather to have barbeques and luncheons. Recently, this suburbia peace was broken by fear of one of their new neighbors, a registered sex offender.

Gary Holcomb was released from the California Men’s Colony on April 16. He returned to his Pismo Beach home, where he had moved with his wife, Arlene, five years ago after moving up from Compton. Back then the Holcombs were welcomed into the area. Neighbors were not aware of his violent past, which included counts of rape, rape by force and oral copulation with a person under the age of 14, and was registered as an offender in Los Angeles County.

Neighbors are fully aware now, thanks to a “Wanted�-style poster, with Holcomb’s front and profile mug shots, circulated by the Pismo Beach Police Department, with an April 21 cover letter from Chief Joe Cortez (addressed “Dear Pismo Beach Residents�) explaining that “The attached flier is being distributed per Megan’s Law and in accordance with Local and State Laws and regulations.� The release went to people living within a mile of Holcomb “in an attempt to make you well informed and to give you the opportunity to protect you and your children from the sex offender. ...This information is strictly for the residents that may have contact and could be at risk of becoming victims of this offender.�

Chief Cortez’s letter goes on to say that PBPD “has no authority to answer any legal questions you may have� and warns that the department “will not support, nor condone any criminal actions that arise from this release. Should anyone commit any misdemeanors or felonies with the information we have provided to you, we will feel obligated to act according to law and seek appropriate criminal prosecution.� In other words, be VERY worried, but no vigilantism, please.

Some neighbors were plenty worried to begin with. “I was friends with him when they first moved here, but we didn’t know he was a sex offender then,� says a 13-year resident of the neighborhood.  “He didn’t register until he was forced to by the Compton Police. He didn’t do so willingly.� In late 2000, Holcomb was sent to CMC for failing to register in San Luis Obispo County. When Holcomb was sent away, other homes in the neighborhood finally took interest.

“It was disclosed [to buyers] that there was a sex offender [who lived there],� says the neighbor, who for obvious reasons (among them that some neighbors were called to court to verify that Holcomb had not registered) does not wish to be identified. “The next people to move in had heard about it, but they had talked to [Arlene] and she gave this candy-coated version of what a nice guy he is. She paints this pretty picture ... and has always led people to believe that all of this was way in his past, but I don’t believe it is. We don’t appreciate all the lies. They’ve done nothing but lie to the paper [Tribune] and the people of the housing association where they live. Two months ago, she denied that Holcomb has ever used weapons. She tells a different story all the time.� Noting that Holcomb has been helping out with a local church youth group, the neighbor asks, “What the hell were they thinking? It’s funny how these guys always find Jesus in prison.�
Another neighbor says he gave up a lucrative truck-driving job because it was too easy to tell when he wasn’t home. “It’s a worry throughout the neighborhood. If he had come here and registered from day one, none of this would be going on right now.� Says another, referring to the fact that Holcomb did not register until he had to, “To me, this a person who shows disregard to the law, so I don’t see how he thinks we can trust him. The way this situation was covered in the past gives an impression to the people who have just moved into this area that it’s not a big deal,� she says. “But we need to keep our guard up. He came back on Tuesday and hasn’t been outside much. They’re lying low. Last week [Arlene] called to invite everybody to come over and meet her husband, but everyone declined. No one was interested.�
“It’s very frightening,� confirms a third resident. “I don’t feel safe. Our neighborhood isn’t safe. It’s not that I’m concerned that they are next door; I’m concerned that someone with such a violent history is in the community. Frankly, I don’t think this man is cleared in any way to be in this community.�
Even though these people do not care to interact with the Holcombs, they say the neighborhood is not on a witch-hunt. “Nobody’s in a quest to push them out, but the wishes would be that he would just go start fresh somewhere else. The neighborhood here now knows that he’s been lying. It’s not easy to accept someone like him back in the neighborhood. They could go out to a rural area, someplace where you don’t have neighbors in your close proximity to make nervous. Why don’t they do that? It would make it easier for everyone.� ∆

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