Community activists on Tuesday took a new approach to dealing with some of the fallout of the foreclosure crisis in San Diego.
They staged a street-theater, media event to embarrass a major bank, and promote an ordinance requiring lenders to maintain properties they repossess.
Over the last five years, some 57,000 homes have undergone foreclosure in the city of San Diego.
All too many are winding up in wrack and ruin -- festering not only as eyesores, but magnets for crime and drags on property values.
On Southlook Avenue in Mountain View Tuesday afternoon, neighbors of a home under foreclosure by Bank of America got help from a coalition of grass-roots community groups in pushing back.
"This house is an example of what's being done to the community as a result of the foreclosure crisis," said Dave Lagstein, local organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, addressing a phalanx of news cameras outside a back yard littered with debris ranging from couches and old TV sets to clothing and all manner of household items.
"But there are many others homes like this all around San Diego,” Lagstein continued, “and we're here to send a message to Wall Street banks like Bank of America that they need to take responsibility for what they're doing to our community.”
The event’s photo-op mission?
To gather up some of the junk and haul it “for deposit” to the nearest Bank of America branch at 36th Street and National Avenue.
Neighbors who have endured the deterioration of the house since its owners were evicted six months ago were all-in with the idea.
"People just think, 'Let's just throw away my trash, no problem, get rid of it here -- everybody else does, so why not me'?" said Clara Lorrabaquio, who lives across the street from the Southlook house. “If (bank officials are) not going to clean up or try to sell it or do something with their property, they should work with the people that lost their home.”
Added Juanita Clemons, 91, who’s lived on the block since 1955: "We don't want to live with all that trash and stuff, creating bugs and roaches and mice and everything else. Because they travel."
After the bed of a pickup truck was loaded with detritus from the yard, the journalists gathered at the Bank of America branch to await its arrival.
On hand were several police officers, clued in to the event, and a grim-faced bank representative apparently communicating with superiors on a cell phone, taking no questions from the media.
As activists off-loaded some of the trash on the truck and piled it in front of the bank’s main entrance, two dozen others – coached by a ringleader with a bullhorn – erupted in chants: "B of A got bailed out, we got sold out!" … "B of A, you're the worst, time to put communities first!"
All this, they told reporters, was dedicated to passage of a proposed “Property Values Protection Ordinance”, which would require foreclosing lenders to register and maintain their properties.
Or, face thousand-dollar-a day fines -- which, along with registration fees, would underwrite more code compliance inspectors.
Ordinance backers say the measure, forwarded by a City Council committee to a full Council vote scheduled for the fall, is modeled after one adopted by 75 California cities including Chula Vista.
In Chula Vista, they say, revenues from the ordinance have covered the expense of five new inspectors.
San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, a prime mover of the legislation, says it would not result in a big bureaucracy.
“We don’t have to go and check up on every home,” Alvarez said, adding that random “proactive” inspections, augmented by citizen complaints about unmaintained properties, will go a long way toward curbing the problem.
"And when people call and report (such cases),” he said in an interview Tuesday, “somebody actually goes out and responds. What a concept -- city government responds to citizens' complaints. That's all we're asking, and I think it's really doable."
Meantime, by way of a prior “understanding” among the activists, police and bank, the junk was hauled away from the Bank of America branch after the media mosh left.
In response to the event, Jumana Bauwens, a Bank of America media relations team member, issued the following statement:
“Bank of America is committed to maintaining properties. This property has not completed foreclosure yet, however when we become aware that a property in the foreclosure process has been vacated and is not being kept up, Bank of America will take reasonable measures to have the property maintained.
A property preservation representative has been assigned to address the property issues. We ask residents to log on to https://fieldservices.bankofamerica.com or call 866-515-9759 to report a bank property in need of maintenance.
Bank of America works with service providers to inspect and maintain more than one million properties each month to protect the investor's asset, as a service to the surrounding neighborhood and to support the ultimate sale of the property to a new homeowner.”