PASADENA — A low-income apartment building owned by a church-sponsored group has been identified by police as a major site of drug dealing in the area, and neighbors are demanding that the city take legal action against the owners.
The 26-unit Northwest Manors II at 700 E. Mountain St., police said, has become the focus of a crackdown on the sale of marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
"There are unfortunately a number of marketplaces for drugs in Pasadena," said Lt. Gary Bennett of the Neighborhood Crime Task Force. "This is one on a shopping list."
Although neighbors and police say that the situation has improved in the last month--largely because of law enforcement efforts--Bennett said that drug activity continues to be a problem at the apartment complex.
Both police and officials of Westminster Housing Group I, the nonprofit church-sponsored corporation that owns the apartment complex, blamed trespassers using the building's carport for most of the drug activity.
"There are no residents involved in drugs at this time to the best of my knowledge or belief," said Herb Herr, president of Northwest's housing board. "We won't stand for it."
According to Lt. Bob Strosser of the vice and narcotics division, police have investigated at least nine drug-related incidents at the building since Jan. 1, resulting in at least six arrests.
One man, who told police he lived in the building, was arrested for selling cocaine to undercover officers several blocks from the apartment complex, Strosser said. He said that another man, who told officers he did not live in the building, was arrested in Apartment No. 4 when police seized $2,500 of cocaine. The other arrests apparently were unrelated to residents of the building, Strosser said.
The area in which the complex is located is described as a low- to moderate-income mixed residential area of apartments and single-family residences. Neighbors, who have complained about drug transactions, loud music and gunshots, wrote to the assistant city prosecutor on Sept. 3 requesting that legal action be taken against the owners under the state Health and Safety Code.
Under those guidelines, any building used for the purpose of storing or distributing a controlled substance can be termed a public nuisance and be subject to condemnation.
'Not Squeaky Clean'
"Things have slowed down, but they're not squeaky clean," said Marvin Greer, a nearby resident. "The property owner has a responsibility to clean up the property himself."
The housing group, which owns the yellow stucco structure near the corner of Mountain Street and Palm Terrace, was established by Westminster Presbyterian Church 14 years ago to provide low-income housing for residents displaced by the Foothill (210) Freeway. The building is regulated and renters are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Members of the church-sponsored housing corporation have said that, as a nonprofit agency, they are virtually powerless to eliminate drug activity from their property. While the housing group has signed an agreement informing police that they will prosecute any trespasser after a second violation, members say there is little more the corporation can do.
'Not of Our Making'
"I'm unaware of specific action that we could take that would overcome the problem and that is still within our capabilities," Herr said. "I feel as though we're being unfairly attacked for the drug problem. It's not of our making."
Herr said that the managing agent of the building, Landlord's Property Management Co., screens all prospective tenants before they are admitted to the building, and the resident manager also is instructed to watch for suspicious activity.
All residents are required to undergo a credit check and provide references from previous employers and landlords in order to be eligible for the federally subsidized apartments, said Pat Ingram, managing agent.
"We have really tight records on every person in that building," Ingram said. "Of course, none of us has any assurance that we're not dealing with someone in the drug scene."
Easy Escape Route
Neighbors and police say that drug dealing is a continual problem at the apartment complex, partly because a drainage ditch that borders the building's parking lot affords dealers an easy escape route.
Neighbors say they have observed cars on Mountain Street pull into the semi-covered carport, then watched as drivers made purchases. Police, who have initiated an undercover drug-buying program, say that money often changes hands three or four times during a single purchase to keep the dealer hidden.
Frequently, the drug dealers use sophisticated warning systems, sometimes employing electronic beepers to signal the arrival of police.
Although police say they are aware of the activity, a combination of limited resources and legal restrictions prevents them from completely eliminating the problem.
Can Make Bail