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'Santa' Files $1.5-Million Claim Against City

April 02, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Christmas may be over, but the saga of Santa and the City of Glendale continues.

Robert George, Glendale's self-styled St. Nick, has filed a $1.5-million claim against the city rather than remove the decorations that transform his rented home into a year-round Christmas shrine.

At a press conference Monday, George alleged that Glendale zoning officials cited him unfairly for zoning and building-code violations and trespassed onto his property.

George's house and grounds are decked with 52,000 lights, 10,000 ornaments, 95 Christmas trees, a 14-foot Styrofoam reindeer and a roof full of fake snow. He also gives free tours of his Christmas Wonderland to handicapped and terminally ill children, George said.

"Santa Claus has the right in a free country to spread joy and love. Why can't I . . . give a child who's dying the opportunity to see my place?" George asked Monday. He wore a Santa suit and red cap and blinked back several tears.

George, 63, is a Nebraska native who has dressed like Santa for 38 years and officiated at many White House Christmas celebrations, he said. He lives on $300 to $400 a month he makes from public appearances, he said.

The former "Presidential Santa" maintains that the City of Glendale singled him out for persecution because of complaints by a few uncharitable neighbors on the 1300 block of Alameda Street.

Glendale officials disagree.

"We're not treating him differently than anyone else. We're simply enforcing the law," said David Ramsay, Glendale's assistant city manager. Ramsay said the city has received "a series of complaints" from neighbors who claim that George's garishly decorated house draws hundreds of visitors and causes constant noise, traffic and parking problems.

Neighbors also charge that George is operating a commercial business in a quiet, residential neighborhood.

City officials began investigating in early December and later that month sent George a letter requesting that he correct many electrical problems and apply for required building permits. In turn, George enlisted the help of attorney Gloria Allred, known for her support of civil rights and feminist issues. Anxious to spread Christmas cheer, both sides pledged to resolve the issue.

A Glendale official said that George complied with at least some of the city's requests. But, on March 25, the Public Works Division sent George another letter alleging 12 new violations.

Superintendent of Buildings Alexander C. Pyper ordered George to remove certain displays immediately and gave him up to 30 days to dismantle others.

Asked why the city took so long to file new charges, City Atty. Frank Manzano replied:

"It was only in the spirit of the Christmas season. Christmas is over, and he's supposed to pay attention to the law and comply with it."

Manzano said the city will file a criminal violation if George does not comply with its requests. George could be charged with a misdemeanor, which upon conviction carries a maximum $500 fine, six months in prison, or both, Manzano said.

Meanwhile, Allred was unavailable so George hired attorney L. Edmund Kellogg to defend him for the second go-round, he said.

Kellogg said that Glendale officials have refused to meet with his client despite repeated requests. He added that George wants to obey the law, but believes it is being interpreted unfairly.

For instance, the city claims that George has illegally built a permanent Christmas display in his garage and that the reindeer in the driveway obstructs access to the parking garage.

"What harm is a reindeer doing in his own driveway?" Kellogg asked.

George had similar problems in 1976 when he lived in Sierra Madre and city officials there denied him a permit for a 42-foot sleigh with mechanical reindeer.

But this time, George vowed to fight the city of Glendale to the bitter end.

"We're going to blow the roof right off," George said.

describes his dispute with city in office of attorney L. Edmund Kellogg.

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