First, the guy with the pet alligators landed in hot water with the city. Now it's Rebecca Apodaca, who has a bad hip and fixes trombones.
For almost 20 years, both toiled away unnoticed and undisturbed by government interlopers. It was one of the perks of living in the unincorporated Laguna Terrace neighborhood in south Orange County--a little patch of the suburban frontier.
Then the city folks came calling.
When the city of Laguna Hills annexed the neighborhood three years ago, the two longtime homeowners became quasi outlaws: Nicholas Amodio for keeping two gators in his backyard and Apodaca for running a thriving musical instrument repair business out of her house.
"The city is trying to muscle us," Apodaca said. "They're trying to make us conform. But they should look at the area they took in and make provisions for what was here before they annexed us."
With its manicured lawn and shrubs and a trio of decorative Maya figurines at the front door, Apodaca's house on Colonna looks as homey as any other on the block.
Inside, however, is a bustling repair shop filled with violas, violins, trumpets and trombones. She also rents instruments to schools throughout the county. Her clients, she said, have included Orange County's Pacific Symphony, George Washington University and the U.S. Marine Corps band.
It's a business Apodaca spent 23 years building. And it's one she may lose in a battle with city officials, who say her shop--A & D Music--violates city codes.
She is one of three home-business owners in Laguna Terrace whom the city has taken action against this year, said Planning Director Vern Jones, who oversees code enforcement efforts for the city.
The city went after Apodaca and the others after neighbors complained their operations were becoming a disruption or inconvenience, Jones said. The other two owners are working with the city to bring their operations into compliance with city home-business codes, Jones said. But getting into compliance would be difficult for Apodaca.
She transformed her garage into a workshop, outfitting it with workbenches and ample shelving. Her living room serves as an office, complete with two computers, four phone lines, and a display wall stocked with instructional materials, accessories and instruments for sale.
But city and county codes don't allow retail operations in residential areas or running a business out of converted garages. The city's codes also limit allowable home-based businesses to two phone lines.
Unless she can bring her home up to code or get a variance from the Laguna Hills City Council, Apodaca will have to close her business, Jones said.
Even her Maya figurines near her front door must go. The reason: In the arms of each terra-cotta statue rests an old, rusty wind instrument--one holds a flute, the other two hold trumpets. Because she repairs instruments, city officials have classified the statues as advertising--another violation of the local code.
"If I can't do business here at home, I'm going to have to shut down and go on disability," said Apodaca, who suffers from hip dysplasia and needs a cane to walk.
She said her health prevents her from running a regular music shop. She's already had one hip replacement, and her doctor tells her the other will probably have to be replaced within the next few years. She tires easily. By working at home, she can lie down when she gets tired and return to work once she's rested, Apodaca said.
She has sent a letter to City Councilman L. Allan Songstad Jr. asking for a hearing. She hopes to win a variance that will allow her to continue operating her business the way she has for two decades. But, as of yet, no reprieve has been granted.
Songstad said Friday that he hadn't received the letter but was aware of Apodaca's plight. "But I don't want to prejudge what I haven't seen," he said.
Apodaca isn't the first in her neighborhood to go toe-to-toe with city leaders.
Earlier this summer, Amodio, who lives one street over on Savonna, came close to losing his beloved 400-pound alligators Bonnie and Clyde and a collection of 100 exotic birds he keeps in a backyard aviary. Amodio had kept his menagerie for some 20 years without so much as a peep from the county. But after the neighborhood was annexed, Amodio learned his pets were not allowed by the city.
Amodio rallied support from friends and neighbors, many of whom begged the City Council to let the eccentric 59-year-old keep his pets. In June, the council gave the nod for Amodio to keep the gators and birds--for now. The council will review his case again at the end of the month.
For almost 30 years, this hilly pocket of modest homes sandwiched between the city of Laguna Hills and Leisure World operated as a kingdom free of local control.
It was a good life for some, a daily frustration for others.