City awaits ruling on run-down land

April 27, 2003 11:00 pm

By SUNNY LOCKWOOD

Angels Camp officials see the issue as one of health and safety.

Frank Coelho sees it as government intruding on the rights of a senior citizen to do as she pleases with her private property.

The land in question is 3.5 acres located at 1440 Finnegan Lane in Angels Camp, owned by Marie Starr.

The historic Angels School once operated on the site. But now, the old two-story school building has collapsed upon itself. Trees have grown up through the floorboards, and a collection of inoperable vehicles — cars, trucks, an old trailer — sit rusting in the tall grass nearby.

Angels Camp officials want the property cleaned up.

"It's one of the worst problems citywide as far as safety goes," said Olen Murphy, the city's code enforcement officer.

Murphy said that over a two-year period, he talked with Starr about cleaning up the property, wrote about seven letters asking her to clean it up, talked with her daughter Jan Martinez and Martinez's fiance, Coelho, and, basically, got no response from any of them.

"It's a fire hazard during the time of year when we dry out," he said. "There's a footpath through the back where the fence is down, so I suspect youngsters play around it."

In January, the Angels Camp City Council declared the site a public nuisance and voted unanimously to proceed with abatement within 45 days.

However, Starr filed for injunction relief in U.S. District Court in Fresno, saying the city is interfering with her efforts to develop the property and rebuild the historic Angels School.

Her complaint says a private party has pledged $1,000,000 to rebuild the school and develop the property and that the city had been informed of Starr's plans, but went ahead and voted to remove the building and vehicles from her land anyway.

Although Starr was not available at the phone number listed on her court papers, Coelho said she wants to develop the property into a resource and recreation center that would include a museum, a skate park, a children's playground and a gold panning creek, and rebuild the schoolhouse to look like it did in 1897.