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Bob Dylan's neighbors sing outhouse blues

Malibu residents say wind-borne odors from a portable toilet at the singer's compound are making them ill.

March 17, 2009|Bob Pool

How sweet is life when you live next to a celebrity in Malibu?

Outside Bob Dylan's house, the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

That's what some of the singer-songwriter's neighbors are charging in an increasingly odoriferous dispute over a portable toilet at his sprawling ocean view estate on Point Dume.

Residents contend that the nighttime sea breeze sends a noxious odor from a portable toilet on Dylan's property wafting into their homes. The stench has made members of one family ill and forced them to abandon their bedrooms on warm nights, they say.

For more than six months, Dylan, 67, has ignored their complaints and their pleas to remove the outhouse, the downwind neighbors say.

"It's a scandal -- 'Mr. Civil Rights' is killing our civil rights," said David Emminger, whose home is directly behind the toilet -- which is apparently intended for use by employees of the entertainer best known for his 1960s-era protest songs.

Emminger and his wife have installed five industrial-sized fans in their frontyard in an attempt to blow the odor back at Dylan. They say the fans are no match for the ocean breeze that sweeps across the singer's land, however.

Dylan, who has lived in a compound next to Bluewater Road for more than two decades, did not respond to inquiries about the toilet. Neither did his New York-based attorney.

Malibu officials said they are investigating the complaint. As a result, they are unable to discuss the issue, they said.

But Dylan's neighbors who contend their patience has run out have plenty to say about the odor.

"It started in September. I'd go into the frontyard and get nauseous," said Cindy Emminger, 42. "I couldn't figure out at first where the smell was coming from."

Her 8-year-old son, David Jr., was sickened by the stench. Then she became ill too.

"We both have allergies and are sensitive to chemicals," she said. "I finally noticed that they had moved the porta-potty directly in front of my front door."

By some accounts, the city's response has been sluggish.

In January, one inspector reported that a city code enforcement officer was turned away by Dylan's security staff and told that he was trespassing. "He said they were going to sue the city," the inspector said.

Guards who staff a security shack near the edge of Dylan's compound around the clock are among those who utilize the toilet, neighbors say.

The guardhouse has been the source of controversy in the past. In 1989, when Dylan sought a permit to build it, Los Angeles County building and safety inspectors discovered it was not accessible to the handicapped.

According to county records, the singer bypassed accessibility requirements by promising, in writing, that he "would not hire any handicapped persons" to work in it.

Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen denied Emminger's charge that officials allow celebrities to "dictate terms" to the city.

"There's no truth in that whatsoever. Everybody, in our opinion, is a high-profile person. We have to treat everybody by what the code says. It's not a matter of clout or of money. We treat everybody exactly the same," Thorsen said.

Although Malibu's municipal laws apparently do not directly address the issue of the permanent use of a portable toilet, one code section states that temporary structures connected to authorized construction projects must be removed upon completion of the project.

Another prohibits objectionable odor "in excess of what is normally found in the neighborhood."

"I drove by one time and couldn't locate the porta-potty or smell anything. I called the rental company on her behalf to find out what chemicals they use and forwarded that information to her," Thorsen said.

"It's worse when it's misty outside at night. We turn on the five fans, but it still gets inside our house. We're not even using the upstairs now. We sleep downstairs," she said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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