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HOUSING : Disabled Pair Fight Order to Modify Family Home : City officials have ordered a quadriplegic and his arthritic sister to remove additions to structure and to evict a family friend from a converted garage.

March 16, 1995|KEVIN UHRICH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Margaret Egan and her brother, John, have never lived anywhere else but their family's home on St. Charles Terrace. And, over the years, additions have been made to their nearly 100-year-old home to accommodate their respective disabilities.

John is a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. Margaret has severe arthritis.

But after a surprise inspection last summer by city code enforcement officials, the Egans were told to change the home back to the way it was before a wooden staircase was built onto the side of the two-story house and before a concrete ramp was laid on the other side of the house for John's wheelchair. The city objected because there were no permits for the changes.

The bottom floor is where John lives. Margaret lives on the second floor, which is blocked off from the rest of the house. The stairway is her only way in and out of the house. It also serves as a fire escape.

City code enforcers also demand that the Egans evict Paul Gunther, a family friend of more than two decades who has lived in a converted garage in the back of the house for the past 10 years and helps John get around.

Although city officials have threatened to put a lien on the property if Gunther isn't told to leave and changes are not made, or if the Egans do not apply for special permits to allow for guests and the additions, the Egans said they have no plans to change anything.

The problem, the Egans say, is that the house was built before Alhambra incorporated in 1903. Most of the changes, including the garage conversion and exterior stairs, were made in the early 1940s. And no one, including city officials, can find records indicating the house is any different now than the way it was before 1940, when the Egans' parents bought the home.

Since the first inspection, which city records indicate was prompted by an anonymous complaint, officials have backed off from demanding that the 10-year-old wheelchair ramp be taken out. Assistant City Atty. Elizabeth Feffer and Code Enforcement Manager Vince Bisogno would not talk about the case, saying it is city policy not to discuss open investigations.

The Egans and Gunther, however, said the city is overstepping its authority. They estimate that permitting fees would cost more than $3,000. It is unknown how much it would cost to make any of the changes the city wants.

The Egans said they have no intention of changing anything.

John Egan, 53, calls the city's recent attention to his family's property a case of selective code enforcement.

"None of our neighbors have ever had a problem. Why does the city?" John Egan asked.

Neighbor Arlo Lane, who has shared a back-yard fence with the Egan family since moving to Alhambra in 1945, also wondered why the city is so interested in the Egans' property.

"I'd say they were out of line," Lane, 87, said of city code inspectors. Lane said he could not remember a time when the converted garge, which butts up to his property line, was ever anything other than a guest house.

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Lane recalled when the Egans' two aunts lived in the structure back in the 1950s. "It wouldn't be natural if that wasn't there."

"The house has been as is for over 42 years," said Margaret Egan, 55. She has taught grade school in Alhambra since 1962. John Egan is general manager of a trucking company in Fontana. "That apartment is as it has been for at least 55 years."

Gunther, 49, an unemployed construction worker, also wondered why city officials have only now noticed that he lives with the Egans. Gunther, who lives there free of charge, showed a street parking permit application that he filed with the Alhambra Police Department in 1987. On the application Gunther explained that he was living in the back of the house and needed to park his car on the street to leave room for John Egan's van in the driveway.

"I think this is silly. There are better things in this city they can apply their energies to rather than worrying if I'm helping someone who is disabled," he said.

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