Google La Jollan Gary Sutton's name and you come up with some impressive credentials: former CEO, inventor, author of at least a half-dozen books with titles like “The Six Month Fix: Adventures in Rescuing Failing Companies.” What isn't mentioned is his success as Neighborhood Watch-Out Guy.
This is an age in which municipal code violators run rampant in neighborhoods and when meth makers occasionally move into upscale rental homes. It's an age when every homeowner and responsible renter needs a take-charge, good guy like Sutton.
With the slightest raise of his eyebrow, Sutton describes the condition of his street before a certain family moved in to the area, on La Jolla's Caminito Ascua, near Soledad Road. “This is a neighborhood,” he said, “ where the only sound is the dull roar of one hundred pacemakers.” He sounds like Garrison Keillor at his funniest, but Gary hails from Iowa, not Minnesota.
However, there was nothing funny about the last several months or so on the quiet street. In his organized, sequential way, Sutton gave the chronological account:
A 98-year old homeowner on Sutton's cul de sac relocated to Florida and deeded her home to the Armenian Church of Chicago about a month before Christmas of 2013. Generous of spirit, she allowed the church to rent out the home, and the trustee church was to watch over the property from afar. No background checks were done on the renters, apparently. A three-generation family moved into the cul de sac of 22 homes: grandmother, son and grandson in his 20s. It wasn't exactly the three bears, and Sutton wasn't exactly Goldilocks.
Hints at the undoing of the neighborhood were becoming apparent. A large RV sat on the sidewalk of the property, with curtains covering all windows and duct tape holding up the mirror. This was in violation of the CC&Rs (conditions, covenanta and restrictions) governing the rental agreement. Sutton approached the twentysomething grandson about the violation, at which time the twentysomething grandson threatened to punch Sutton out.
Sutton wasn't alone in his uneasy feelings. Another neighbor was aware of pot-smoking and dropped butts, and she stuffed all the butts in a bag and placed it into the new family's mailbox. At one time, there were seven cars at auction the dad parked on the street. However, a lot of flat tires occurred. The homeowners association gave permission to have them towed, and Sutton did the deed, not exactly endearing himself to the new family.
(Before these incidents, crime on Caminito Ascua was almost unheard of – “Oh, yeah,” Sutton said, “somebody stole a bike 32 years ago”).
Police officers are very busy public servants, and Sutton had to build a case for them. A police raid came after loud fighting inside the home, during which the grandson resisted arrest and was handcuffed. All hours of the day and night, Sutton added, the dad brought in some women with “very little unexposed flesh/” Meth odors permeated the air outside.
Finally, after Gary contacted the Armenian Church of Chicago, a few trustees flew out to help build a case for eviction. By now, public nuisance was commonplace. Motorcycles arrived at 4 in the morning, with unsavory people driving by the garage, with the door rising and closing like a Chicago accordion. Drug dealing was alive and well. Many of the rooms were sublet. Police in Ocean Beach spotted purse snatchers whose address was this same La Jolla house. One of the renters had a pit bull that went after Sutton. That's when he started carrying a baseball bat, particularly after a defensive exchange of conversations (this guy with the pit bull had been in prison twice). The two representatives from the Armenian Church of Chicago tried to talk to the grandson, who ran. A warrant was out for his arrest, and his heroin addiction didn't help.
Sutton wrote to now police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and mentioned the pit bull, the threats, the two police incidents and the dealing and possible cooking of meth. Sutton reminded her that nine children lived on this street, even though the majority of homeowners were seniors.
In three days, 14 to 16 police officers, an ambulance and a fire truck had gathered at the residence.
The ladies of the house were actually mules carrying the drugs. The grandson hid himself in the attic until a police dog found him. Gramma moved out after the first raid. Police closed the deal and got rid of the grandson, but the dad was never arrested. After the fourth raid, the locks on the house were mysteriously changed.
“They busted that house,” Sutton said with pride.
A celebration party in the cul de sac featured some champagne and a thank-you card to Zimmerman with 30 signatures on it. Meanwhile, once again Caminito Ascua is awash in the sound of those pacemakers, and maybe a squeal of joy from one of the nine children living safely and soundly – thanks to Gary Sutton, an unpaid sleuth enjoying street parties among happy neighbors.
On August 5, the 31st annual America's Night Out Against Crime will be celebrated across the nation (check out the website at www.natw.org). The goal is to get your neighbors to gather together after turning on porch lights and letting the criminals see that we take care of each other. In the matter of Caminito Ascua, Gary Sutton went above and beyond the call of duty.
Sandy Lippe frequently contributes her View from 52 column to La Jolla Village News.