America the Messy Yard Police State
Chandler landowner faces jail over messy yardSource
Landowner says he faces jail over weeds
Ari Cohn, Tribune
May 23, 2009 - 2:48PM
Pablo Pescador's property has been the subject of visits and citations from Chandler officials. May 23, 2009.
Thomas Boggan, Tribune
Pablo Pescador, owner of a defunct Chandler landscaping business, says city officials have been waging "all out war" against him for two years, and now he is facing a three-month jail term.
Pescador, 48, says city prosecutors have hounded him continuously about the state of his one-acre property, on the north side of Chandler Boulevard just west of McQueen Road, demanding additional work every time he fulfills a cleanup order.
And now, he could go to jail because of weeds, he said.
"They want me to go to jail for having a tumbleweed," he said. "This is a serious abuse of power."
Collin Yu, an assistant city prosecutor, said the weeds are only a small part of the problem. Pescador has a history of flouting city law. Aside from the weeds, he earned his sentence by illegally operating an auto repair business on the site and for failing to remove large piles of debris and abandoned vehicles, Yu said.
"It was like a junkyard, essentially," Yu said.
Pescador's former business, Turfcare Landscape Concepts, presents a facade to the street of prolific and varied ornamental stonework. On closer inspection, however, the stonework is falling to pieces, and many of the windows have been boarded up.
The property's rear yard is vacant, save for a couple of old vehicles with Turfcare logos, a couple of pieces of large statuary, and some low, nondescript rubble.
Pescador said he bought the property in 1998, soon after retiring from the U.S. Army as a captain, having served in the first Gulf War. His Turfcare landscaping business opened in 2004 to fanfare, with then-Vice Mayor Lowell Huggins in attendance, he said.
His troubles began in September 2005, when a fire damaged the rear portion of the main building. Pescador said he didn't have the means to bring the building back up to code in a reasonable amount of time to keep his landscaping business alive.
The business remained closed through 2006, and Pescador said city officials began accusing him of setting the fire deliberately, although nothing ever came of the allegation.
"They dragged my son in and out of the police station six or seven times for questioning," he said.
To get business moving again, he built a 1,400-square-foot masonry building at the back of the property in spring 2007. He admitted he didn't have the proper permits for the work.
"This is where I went wrong," he said.
Chandler inspectors came back out to the site in fall 2007 and cited him for erecting a building without a permit, and for operating a mechanic shop on the site without proper authorization and in violation of zoning laws.
Pescador said he wasn't operating a mechanic shop, merely helping out a friend by storing about 30 cars for a few weeks while the friend shipped them for sale.
As for the masonry building, Pescador said the city offered to allow him to bring it up to code, which involved getting things like engineering specifications and drainage plans, but the expense got to be too great, so he tore it down voluntarily.
Nevertheless, Pescador pleaded guilty to the two charges. He said that at the time, he didn't think he needed a lawyer to advise him.
But city inspectors came back in February 2008 demanding that he clean up what they called debris, and to get rid of a couple of weeds, he said. Pescador denied that the piles of material on the site were "debris."
"We have a lot of stone products, a lot of masonry parts," he said. "To me, those are materials that are worth money."
A few weeks later, city officials petitioned the court to revoke his probation and send him to jail, with a photo of a single weed on the site as evidence, Pescador said. That's when he hired a lawyer.
"I said, 'You know what? This thing is never going to finish,'" he said. "They are not going to let me go."
His lawyer, Jonathan Dessaules, said Chandler officials keep moving the finish line. Once Pescador complies with one order, they add more requirements, he said.
"Every time he goes out, he cleans it up, but they say, 'You didn't do X, Y and Z,'" Dessaules said.
Last week, Pescador was sentenced to 90 days in jail for failure to comply. Dessaules said the court misinterpreted the conditions of the original plea agreement, and that it's a "manifest injustice" to send someone to jail for weeds.
"We are appealing the sentence," Dessaules said.
Pescador said it's unfair to send him to prison for having a few weeds, when the original charges regarding the masonry building and the auto shop have been corrected.
"We want to be able to take it to the Superior Court and let them review the whole thing and decide if it was appropriate," he said.
Yu, the assistant city prosecutor, said the case against Pescador included a citation for weeds, but it was only a fraction of the problem.
"Weeds were a part of it, admittedly, but a small part," Yu said.
He said Pescador has flouted city law going back to 2007, when officials charged him with building the masonry building and erecting a canopy without the proper permits, and that the structures were not up to city code.
Yu disputed Pescador's claim to have torn down the new structures voluntarily. He said the probation conditions of Pescador's 2007 plea agreement - after he had pleaded guilty - required him to demolish the structures and to refrain from using any building that doesn't have the proper permits. The probation was rescinded when the buildings were torn down, yet Pescador left huge piles of concrete and metal, vats of motor oil, and multiple vehicles on the property, Yu said.
He said the reason Pescador is now facing a 90-day jail sentence is that he pleaded guilty last year, in a separate case, of illegally operating an auto repair shop on the site. Of the other three pre-existing buildings on the site, the main building wasn't up to code after the fire, and Pescador was using the warehouse building as an unenclosed auto repair shop in violation of zoning laws and without the proper permits, Yu said.
The terms of the second plea agreement, entered last October, required Pescador to stop using the site for unauthorized business and to clean up the remaining debris, weeds and abandoned vehicles, Yu said.
This March, a judge ruled that Pescador had failed to clean up the site, and revoked his probation.
Yu said Pescador had plenty of opportunities to avoid jail time. He had months to clean up his property, but he failed to do it, Yu said.
The court still has the option of recommending that Pescador serve his time at home under house arrest, Yu said.
"The whole goal of this thing was to bring him into compliance," Yu said. "The fact that he couldn't afford to do it never came up."