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Congresswoman's abandoned house angers neighbors

Laura Richardson's former home in Sacramento's upscale Curtis Park neighborhood is in disrepair. Residents say they have appealed to her and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi without success.

June 12, 2009|Jeff Gottlieb

SACRAMENTO — John Bailey thought it was great when his neighbor was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007.

"Not everyone lives next door to a congresswoman," he said.

But two years later, he doesn't feel so lucky. The congresswoman's house is abandoned and in disrepair, "a blight on the neighborhood," Bailey said.

He thinks the way that Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach) has treated her Sacramento home tells far more about her than her voting record.

"I wouldn't want anyone that irresponsible to represent me," said Bailey, like Richardson a liberal Democrat. "What I don't get is how she has the time to visit with Fidel Castro but doesn't have time for her own house. If you can't manage your own household, you probably shouldn't get involved in international affairs."

He's not alone. Neighbors have complained to the city, written letters and e-mails to Richardson and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , but the three-bedroom house remains an eyesore. Neighbors just wish she would sell it or let it go into foreclosure, anything to get it into the hands of someone who would care.

"She shows total disregard for everyone in the neighborhood," said Sean Padovan, a retired police sergeant. "She ought to be embarrassed and ashamed."

Richardson did not return phone calls for this story.

The problems with the house began shortly after Richardson was elected to the Assembly in 2006 from Long Beach and bought the two-story house in the leafy Curtis Park neighborhood.

It wasn't long before Padovan, 62, angry that the lawn wasn't being mowed, knocked on Richardson's door, told her he was a neighbor and asked if she minded if he cut the grass. He hauled out his hand mower, and when Richardson still seemed to have no interest in taking care of her yard, he stuck a gardener's card in her door with a note saying that she should call him if she had questions.

He never heard from Richardson, not a thank-you or a wave as she walked past.

After Richardson was elected to Congress in 2007 in a special election, she moved out around Labor Day. She told Bailey that she planned to rent out the house. Later that year, he sent her an e-mail with a link to a real estate agent who could help. He never received a response.

With no one living in it, the house continued to deteriorate.

Angry at the demise of the once stately home and worried about what it would do to their property values, neighbors took things into their own hands.

Carrie Thomsen would walk across the street with her hose and water the yard. Janet Carlson sent her gardener to Richardson's house once a month for six months to mow the lawn. She paid kids $20 during the fall to rake the leaves. They once peeked inside and saw a dead bird in the living room. Her husband turned on the sprinklers the last two summers, worried that dry weeds would turn into a fire hazard.

Things got so bad that in the fall of 2008 rats began breeding in Richardson's backyard and soon moved into L. Kraft's house next door. It took him two months to get rid of them.

Richardson's house, he said, "has become such a hideous place."

The congresswoman has gained a degree of infamy in the Sacramento neighborhood. The two-story house, gray with red trim, is badly in need of paint. The front lawn is a patchwork of grass and weeds with brown splotches of dirt. Much of the once lush ivy covering the chain-link fence has died.

The red wooden gate sprawls on the lawn, unless someone props it up. A toilet sits on the back patio.

The backyard weeds, which neighbors said had grown three or four feet high, were cut a day after The Times wrote about them a few months ago. Dead leaves have gathered behind the hot tub. Rosebushes are struggling from lack of water, since the sprinklers are never turned on. Gone are the rose of Sharon, miniature crape myrtle and primroses the previous owner had labored over for years.

Brown paper covers many windows. There is no furniture inside. Two beer cans are in the kitchen sink surrounded by dirt.

The city declared the house a public nuisance in August. In late May, after a neighbor complained that the front lawn was out of control, the city filed a violation notice. The lawn was mowed a few days later.

Most recently, another neighbor filed another complaint, saying that Richardson's house was "a vacant structure with a blighted appearance." Now residents are discussing whether to hire a lawyer to try to force her to fix it.

Richardson's house sits in stark contrast to the rest of the upper-middle-class neighborhood. Curtis Park is one of Sacramento's oldest, with a mix of Tudor, Spanish and Craftsman-style homes built in the 1910s, '20s and '30s, among others, and where owners work hard to keep them up.

Located a couple miles from the Capitol, the neighborhood is known for its liberal politics and is filled with legislators, lobbyists and lawyers. Mayor Kevin Johnson owns a home there, and former state Sen. Al Rodda lives a couple of houses from Richardson.

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