POMONA — As a general contractor, Michael Jones considers himself an asset to the city. For the last six years he has renovated older homes throughout Pomona, replacing rotting wood and restoring peeling paint. He even has been hired under the city's Home Improvement Program, which is intended to help low- and moderate-income residents remodel their homes or correct Health and Safety Code violations.
But the condition of Jones' own property, city officials say, has been more of a liability than an asset.
Described by inspectors as a fire hazard, a public nuisance and an "extreme eyesore," the city began hauling debris from Jones' backyard last week and will require him to pay the estimated $2,000 to $3,000 removal fee.
The action, which inspectors say culminated a four-year effort to force Jones to clean up his property, was authorized by Pomona Municipal Court Judge Theodore Piatt after Jones failed to comply with a May 22 court order to correct code violations.
"The entire lot his house is on was covered with old building materials . . . a refrigerator, a boat, some type of weed-spraying compressor, motorcycles, inoperative vehicles, a lot of scrap materials and brush piles," said Fire Capt. Tom Fee, supervisor of the Neighborhood Improvement Through Code Enforcement program (NICE). "The place was just one cluttered mess."
It was the first time a court order had been used to clear a resident's property since the inception of NICE in 1981, city officials said.
The program, which was developed to "wipe out blight" through better property maintenance, judges homeowners on how well they comply with a combination of health, safety, fire and building codes.
Of the 6,000 inspections and re-inspections made each year in Pomona, the majority of violations are corrected after a written warning, said city code inspector Don Beeler.
An Informal Survey
An informal survey of cities in the San Gabriel Valley showed that while almost all have a code enforcement program, most violations are corrected without legal action.
Although investigations typically are handled on a complaint basis, Beeler said, the violations on Jones' property were noted after a citywide inspection in 1982 and again in an inspection of Jones' neighborhood this year. No residents have filed complaints against Jones, Beeler said.
Jones, who lives with his wife, Sharran, at the house at 775 West 3rd St., charged that city inspectors have tried to harass and intimidate him.
"They sit up there and figure out ways to mess with people," Jones said. "They figured they would use Gestapo tactics and make an example of me."
Jones, 45, said he intended to renovate the 100-year-old house when he bought it five years ago and that what inspectors called junk were the materials he was using for the job.
'Making Other People Rich'
"For years I was making other people rich fixing up their homes," he said. "I thought I'd start doing something to help myself for a change."
But Jones, who calls himself "The Shiek" because of a turban he wears to keep dust from his hair while working, said that a back injury and lack of money have hampered his efforts to restore the house as fast as he would have liked.
"Also, I am not a person who races," he said. "I learned over the years to take your time and do it right."
As far as city inspectors are concerned, however, Jones had more than enough time to finish the job.
According to city records, Jones was issued a warning to correct violations on Jan. 27, 1982, shortly after the code enforcement program was initiated. A formal notice of violation was sent three months later after Jones failed to comply with the code.
Photos Show Condition
Photos taken at the time of the first citation show that the property "was in a lot better condition then than it is now," Beeler said.
Another warning was issued to Jones on Nov. 1, 1983, according to city records. Jones was again cited for failure to comply with the code and he pleaded guilty to the charge on Jan. 4, 1984 in Pomona Municipal Court. He was fined $15.
"My wife bothers me more than the city," Jones said. "Naturally I know deep down that the faster I get this done, the better it is for me and my family. But I just can't do everything at once."
At the beginning of this year, supervision of the code enforcement program was transfered from the city's Community Development Department to the Pomona Fire Department, which Beeler described as "more enforcement oriented."
At the request of Councilman Jay Gaulding, the team began inspections in the area bounded by White Avenue on the west, Park Avenue on the east, the railroad tracks on the north and Mission Boulevard on the south, Beeler said.
Sent Another Notice
In March, inspectors sent Jones another notice of violation and ordered him to appear in Pomona Municipal Court on April 3. At his court appearance, Jones requested an extension to clean up his property, officials said.
City inspectors testified May 22 that Jones had again failed to correct the violations and Piatt authorized a contractor to clear his property. Jones was also fined $200, placed on probation for a year and ordered to pay for the removal of the debris.
"Hopefully, this will send a message to other people violating the city ordinance that they need to take care of their own problems," Fee said. "It should make everybody a little prouder of their property and a little happier to live here in Pomona."
But Jones, who came to the United States from Bermuda in 1974, had a different view.
"They tell me this is the land of liberty and freedom," he said. "Now it seems to be sort of contradictory."