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Neighbors from hell 

The recent torching of a Santa Maria mobile home—with the instigator murdering four people (two who were possibly abetting his eviction from the park) and his wife and son is headline news.

It's horrific and you'd think somehow completely preventable—and very much un-Central Coast-ish in general. Well, think again.

It was some years ago that I wrote a "Neighbors from hell" piece for New Times, and despite this latest example, I have a doozy that is, also, quite current.

If you've lived long enough, and moved enough, there's little doubt you've experienced the Neighbor from hell (NFH). If not, consider yourself lucky.

My wife and I have, in our 22-year-long marriage, lived in various places along the Central Coast. The locations have all been different with different outcomes. Towns include Orcutt, Grover Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Cambria.

In an ideal world, neighbors would all 1. behave themselves 2. share this and that and 3. put on street fairs (or potluck dinners) for their neighbors. Or they would just keep to themselves. For the first three, dream on. For the latter, one would also hope they would avoid screaming in the middle of the night and having loud parties which should be part of "keeping to oneself."

Dense urban life is part of the problem as lot sizes grow smaller and natural buffers like yards and pathways shrink.

I had a NFH in my current residence in Cambria—they regularly let the barking dog out after 9 p.m. and conveniently "forgot" to bring him back in. Calls to Animal Control and midnight texts to the absentee owner/landlord eventually solved the problem.

But, no, we didn't have the penultimate NFH problem until we bought in a SLO mobile home park—a getaway from our active Cambria Airbnb. Want to know which park? It rhymes with freak-died (which is what our neighbors and us wished would have happened to the person in question).

I'll call him Chuck. He bought his place outright.

When Chuck moved in right across from us, he seemed pleasant but early on started talking about some "people" who were trying to "get him" from a previous residence. Paranoid schizophrenia is a disease, but at that point we had no reason to doubt his stories, or his mental state.

Then Chuck got a pit bull, briefly put a for sale sign up on his rig, and the dog bit a neighbor. And it gets worse. His immediate neighbor to the west was a very nice couple, pioneers in the park, who had lived there 30 years. You couldn't ask for nicer people and we became fast friends. The husband even played Santa for the kids in the park at Christmastime, and the wife helped with community potlucks they both put on.

Then Chuck started growing weed in his backyard, and smoking it. The distance between his place and the nice couple's was only a few feet, so they reported him to park management. The nice couple became Chuck's Enemy No. 1. The neighbor to his east with whom he had become friendly later tried to dissasociate himself from Chuck, ensuring he, too, would become, well, Enemy No. 2. Pretty soon the whole block was avoiding Chuck.

Then the almost unthinkable happened.

Chuck, clearly unstable (and the latest research shows that dope smoking can exacerbate paranoid schizophrenia), wielded a potato gun with a coke bottle as ammunition and shot out the nice couple's bedroom window, and then the back window of his new car. This was getting personal.

My wife and I were arriving about the time a SWAT team of five San Luis Obispo Police Department officers were descending on the neighborhood and I personally saw them drag Chuck out and take him to jail. I had never seen anything like this. Probably the assumption by us and the neighbors was he was in the pokey for a long time, but being flush with unearned cash, his lawyer got him out and then ensued what turns out to be a one-year process in general to get an eviction order consummated, and/or a criminal conviction, in California courts.

Soon Chuck returned, and continued his nightly monologs and accusations on his porch to no one in particular. The neighborhood was terrified of him. Word spread but it was natural that park management, newly installed and not expecting to have to deal with such a crisis so soon, laid somewhat low. Everyone wanted to know when he would be evicted but there was going to have to be a hearing at the county courthouse, with neighbors invited to testify. More than half a dozen of us volunteered, including yours truly. We just felt it was our duty.

The hearing lasted hours and was, by itself, a comical event—but no one was really laughing. Chuck had brought his latest dog, and was told to remove it from the court. Before testimony ensued, Chuck paced the hallways glaring at all of us and making "air" punches in our direction. We didn't even feel safe there! Those who were originally planning to testify were not allowed in the court, so we were pretty much in the dark about what was going on.

Chuck had finally burned all his bridges and we were told that he would remain in jail for awhile and that the eviction would go through fairly soon (and that he would be banned from the park and lose possession of his rig). A security guard was even posted for a time to make sure this "stuck."

For the first time in months, neighbors could feel safe, and we had formed a bond few neighborhoods have these days.

But for us, it may have set us on a course to sell the home and find some other way to stay in SLO on our off days from the AirBnB. Suggestions welcome.

The Chucks of the world might try a little harder to be good neighbors, and if they can't be, then law enforcement and legal remedies need to be swifter and more demonstrative in their responses.

And right now Chuck lives in another Central Coast community nearby.

Wish the neighbors luck. Δ

Send comments through the editor atclanham@newtimesslo.com.

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