The tale of Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon's residency -- and the investigation into whether he lives in the district he was elected to represent -- grew more tangled Friday when he announced that he had been living just outside the area for nearly three months because of concerns about his family's safety.
Alarcon, 56, said he stopped living at a house his wife owns in the 7th Council District on Nordhoff Street in Panorama City in October after a man he described as mentally ill broke into the home, changed locks on at least three doors and destroyed some of his possessions.
"He cut up some of our clothing. He was burning books in the fireplace," said Alarcon, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley. "I think he intended to be a squatter but he didn't have time."
The revelation came just days after investigators with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office served search warrants at that house and another owned by Alarcon's wife, Flora Montes de Oca, to determine whether the councilman was living at the address where he is registered to vote. Council members are required to live in their districts, but two neighbors said the Panorama City home has appeared to be vacant for several years.
The other Montes de Oca house searched by authorities is in Sun Valley in the neighboring 2nd District represented by Councilman Paul Krekorian.
Lawrence Lydell Payton, 42, was charged with residential burglary; he is accused of breaking into Alarcon's home and a trailer coach of Alarcon's between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28, according to court records. He was held on $50,000 bail. On Dec. 21, a judge found Payton to be mentally incompetent. He was committed to Patton State Hospital, according to court minutes.
The attorneys who represented Payton could not be reached Friday.
Prosecutors had no additional comment Friday on the Alarcon inquiry. Earlier this week, David Demerjian, head deputy of the Public Integrity Division, said his investigators obtained search warrants after receiving a complaint about Alarcon's residency. A politician who registers to vote at a place that is not his residence can be charged with a felony, Demerjian said.
On Friday, Alarcon described the house on Nordhoff as his "permanent domicile" and said his decision to stay in the Sun Valley house does not affect the legality of his residency. "I've been making repairs to make it a safe home. I'm not going to move my baby into an unsafe home," said the councilman, whose wife gave birth to a daughter about two years ago.
Alarcon told The Times that he has been trying to repair the Nordhoff Street house for nearly three years. He was elected in 2007. He refused to say how often he stayed at the house before the break-in, referring that question to his lawyer.
Attorney Fred Woocher would not directly answer the question either, saying Alarcon was there often enough to "be considered a resident."
Alarcon said he was in the house Oct. 25, making plans for a baby shower, and did not return until Oct. 28, the day Payton was discovered there. Alarcon said his cousin, John de la Rosa, went into the house on Oct. 26 to make preparations for some plumbing work. De la Rosa, who also works as Alarcon's district director, agreed to meet Alarcon at the house two days later to oversee a worker from the local cable company, Alarcon said.
De la Rosa got there first and found Payton, who refused to open the door, Alarcon said. After police broke down the door, they discovered that Payton had defecated in a bathtub, placed knives in different parts of the house and even installed a new soap holder in one bathroom, Alarcon said.
"It was surreal," he added.
The aftermath of that incident did not go unnoticed by one neighbor.
Scott Folden, who lives across the street and is involved in Neighborhood Watch, said that the day after the alleged burglary, a pile of clothes, family pictures and some of Alarcon's bank records were left on the curb.
Folden told The Times earlier this week that he had not seen anyone living in the house for three years.
Alarcon, in turn, said he and his wife stay at both of her houses but that his legal residence is on Nordhoff.
"Obviously, people are going to have different opinions on different things," he said. "I have plenty of evidence to demonstrate that I, in fact, live there."
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.