Court grants receivership request

Criminal trial for Dale Howard case scheduled to begin in October

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Court grants receivership requestA third-party receiver will be appointed as custodian of the properties of William Dale Howard, who has been embroiled in a years-long legal battle with the city of Ridgecrest over the state of his property in the southwest part of town.

Last Wednesday’s ruling by a Kern County Superior Court judge has evoked mixed emotions from residents — relief from neighbors who have been calling in complaints to the Ridgecrest Police Department for decades and dismay from those who say that the act impinges on private property rights.

Howard owns 12 adjacent lots that have sea vans forming a perimeter over much of the property. Google Earth photos show what appears to be a collection of old cars, equipment and trash in what nearby property owners describe as a junkyard in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Howard also reportedly owns a flock of some 30-40 peacocks, which city officials say roam the neighborhood freely and feed out of a makeshift trough caked with rotting food.

Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand says that Howard is out of compliance with city code on numerous counts, including the presence of the birds on his property and the placement of sea vans on an unstable foundation. He said that what led to the city’s criminal and civil cases against Howard was what he sees as the resident’s failure to comply with correcting code violations that threaten the health and safety of the public.

Neighboring property owners say that beyond the eyesores, foul smells and loud noises coming from Howard’s property, the disheveled appearance has eroded the inherent value of nearby properties.

The temporary injunction, granted last week as part of the civil suit, authorizes the appointment of the receiver. Strand pointed out that the receiver is 100-percent accountable to the court, not the city, and will be selected by the judge.

The criminal trial is scheduled for October.

Howard said that even though last week’s development is not a final ruling, he is believes it is unjust.

“I have spent just short of $300,000 to defend myself thus far,” he said. Now he is put in a situation where he is running out of cash, but the injunction prevents him from leveraging his property to borrow money. “The city can borrow against it, but I can’t. They may have created the perfect storm.”

Howard also said he is still not convinced the action is legal.

“It’s so totally unconstitutional and fraught with lies and innuendoes. I can’t believe that someone can say, ‘We think the containers are ugly’ and put in an affidavit that says it devalues the their property a quarter mile away, and I don’t even get a chance to cross examine them.”

According to Howard, he has cleaned up and rearranged his property. “I think the city is not going to be satisfied until I take everything down to bare dirt.”

Michael Neel, one of Howard’s most vocal supporters, says that the injunction is an “onerous disregard of private property rights.

“You can’t control someone’s property without a hearing. This man is having this done to him without a trial, which means no one’s property is safe.”

Neel said that the state of Howard’s property does not enter into the equation. “If the government can take your property because they don’t like what you’re doing with it, that means we live under a bunch of tyrants. They are impinging upon our basic rights … This is the worst legal action I’ve seen the city take in the 35-plus years that I’ve been here.”

“Our opinion is that this is a public nuisance, it’s a health hazard and it is dangerous. It’s devaluing the neighborhood, it’s disturbing the sensibility of the people who live there and, in all frankness, if we had not gotten engaged, it would probably have continued to grow,” said Strand.

“I understand that Mr. Howard doesn’t agree, and that’s why we are in court. Our stance is that we don’t want to argue this in the papers, we are going to give him his day in court just like he is asking for.”

Although the remedies of the civil and criminal cases are different, said Strand, the city’s only intent is that Howard will clean up his property.

Story First Published: 2013-10-01