The downtown Bakersfield house has been boarded up for years. The paint is peeling, the roof is leaking and the front porch is listing like a sinking ship with a rusted hull.

The front yard doesn't need mowing because it's dead, and the back yard sports several so-called trees of heaven, a vigorous invasive species that clones itself so efficiently a sucker is growing from a crack in the covered front porch.

To top it off, the abandoned structure caught fire last year, requiring firefighters to tear off the protective plywood to reach the flames.

And yet, still it stands. A monument to the inviolable sacredness of private property rights.

"It's been an ongoing disaster for years," said 20th Street resident Lamar Brandysky, who is incensed that the absentee owner appears to be either oblivious to, or unconcerned about, the state of the structure and the effect it has on the surrounding neighborhood.

Frustrated by years of inaction, Brandysky is spearheading an effort to bring about meaningful change. Some 60 downtown residents have signed a petition asking for just that.

His neighbors asked him to help, he said, "because they know I'm good at getting stuff done."

He will send the petition to the property owner with a cover letter that essentially says, "The neighborhood is fed up. We expect you to take action."

A little public shaming goes a long way, Brandysky said.

If he is ignored, he will haunt the public comment section of Bakersfield City Council meetings.

Picketing in front of the owner's home is not out of the question, he said.

The owner, Harolyn L. Johnson, couldn't immediately be reached Thursday and Friday. A note and business card were left at her home requesting an interview.

But Brandysky said he's already mailed a letter to her home. He received no reply.

"I pass by it every morning except Sunday, on my walking route," neighborhood resident Donna Wilmot said of the derelict former fourplex.

Several times she has seen evidence that vagrants had been in the house.

"It's not a safe feeling," she said.

"It's just sad. At one time people lived there," she recalled. "It could have been salvaged, it could have been saved."

But the old homes in the old neighborhood require regular upkeep, and the 20th Street structure didn't receive that care.

"At this point, nobody is going to build it back to what it was," Wilmot said. "It's disappointing to know you've lost another one."

Joseph Conroy, a spokesman for the city of Bakersfield, said the damage the property suffered in the fire "is not severe enough to establish it as a dangerous building."

"Notices have been sent to the property owner to make repairs," he said in an email.

A "substandard" notice has also been placed on the title of the property, Conroy said. That notice means the title cannot be transferred without a release.

"The property is on Code Enforcement's substandard list, so officers check it at least quarterly, if not more often," he said. "Those checks are of the exterior, unless transients are inside and need to be cleared from the property."

If another fire or some other serious damage occurred, the city's code enforcement team would need to reassess the structure's integrity.

According to the city, despite the building's obvious burn damage, teetering porch and gutted interior, it could still be rehabbed and still retain value.

Meanwhile, Conroy said, the city "is working to demolish other properties that have more severe structural damage and are more dangerous."

"It's up to the property owner to make repairs at this stage," he said. "The neighboring residents could file a civil action against the property owner as recourse."

In the meantime, the building remains a neighborhood eyesore, a nuisance that attracts squatters, a problem that's been so long neglected that it feels like the absentee owner has more rights than residents do in their own neighborhood.

As he stood on the teetering front porch of the 20th Street building, Brandysky acknowledged that the city is dealing with "a fair number of properties that are in worse condition."

But he said he will not let up until the owner takes responsibility for her property. She owns dozens of buildings, he said. "She's not poor."

"Demolish or rebuild," he said, speaking indirectly to the owner. "If you don't, I'm going to speak directly to the city council and keep this in the public eye."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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(8) comments

PopTart

One more match....

muciom

What if we started a go fund me to raise money to restore downtown Bakersfield architecture?

The article makes a point about private property ownership and the community effect. This community has access to wealth and can flex that wealth to maintain its historic downtown.

Take action Now

Need to check on laws about devaluation of your areas property due to this structure. I know cities have laws about weeds etc of yards not being kept. It’s for sure a fire hazard to the area with homeless people messing around places like this. Maybe a lawsuit for financial damages to fellow property owners. I know as a jurist you would get my vote. Even if you had to make the city a codefendant

She Dee

Instead of saying you are fed up and demanding things...why not ask the owner if they need help with the cleanup? Perhaps the owner is in ill health or has a conservator who handles their affairs for them. You never know without investigating beforehand. The Assessors Office should be able to give anyone the name of the owner because it's public record. But with the Covid 19 issues, they may not allow walk-ins.

Masked 2020

option one... live next door to the ghost house....option two.........live next door to Lamar Brandysky... personally the haunted house in the fall wouldn't be really so bad....Lamar would be all 365...and he knows how to carry a clipboard....

Unionpacific

First neighborly thing to do is ask the owner. It seems the neighbors do not know why the owner has not fixed this property and do not care to know. Instead they plan to take a hostile attitude after being "fed up".

Comment deleted.
She Dee

If that telephone number is UNVERIFIED, then what you are doing is most likely going to cause someone needless grief. It also sounds like a valid case for harassment.

JR

"The paint is peeling"?!! OMG What a tremendous understatement. Why not just say the yard needs watering.

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